Bill O'Brien

NCAA to reduce scholarship sanctions on Penn State

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Penn State’s — and state lawmakers’ — prolonged fight with the NCAA over historic sanctions levied on the football program is about to bear some fruit.

The NCAA announced Tuesday that, “[d]ue to Penn State University’s continued progress toward ensuring athletics integrity,” its executive committee has agreed to gradually restore scholarships the football program had lost in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal. The move to restore scholarships, arguably the most crippling of the sanctions, was based on a recommendation by George Mitchell, who had been hired by the NCAA as an independent “integrity monitor.”.

The original sanctions called for a cap of 15 scholarships beginning in 2013 and running through 2016; the NCAA limit at the FBS level is 15.  Additionally, whereas FBS programs are permitted 85 scholarship players, the Nittany Lions would be allowed just 65.

The new directive from the NCAA, however, will allow Penn State to increase by five its scholarships in 2014, increasing to the full allotment of 25 the following year.  The program will be back up to its full allotment of 85 scholarship players beginning in 2016 — at least two full years ahead of what the original sanctions had called for — after moving to 75 in 2014 and 80 in 2015.

“The decision is the result of a thoughtful and deliberative process to ensure we reached the most appropriate outcome,” said Rita Hartung Cheng, who chaired the recent Executive Committee meetings regarding Senator Mitchell’s annual report and chancellor of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. “During our discussions, we had the benefit of engaging with Senator Mitchell’s expert perspective and the views of our Big Ten colleagues.”

Other sanctions, including a four-year bowl ban and $60 million fine, remain in place, although the press release stated that the NCAA “may consider additional mitigation of the postseason ban in the future depending upon Penn State’s continued progress.”

Even if the bowl ban remains in place, the restoring of scholarships is by far the biggest win for the football program in general and head coach Bill O’Brien specifically.  That specific sanction has crippled O’Brien and his coaching staff on the recruiting trail; the additional scholarships will now allow the program to make bigger inroads in the recruiting game, the lifeblood of any program, and begin scaling back its “run-on” program beginning as early as this recruiting cycle.

O’Brien has been a big part of the progress over the past couple of years as Penn State continues to climb out of the hole created by the Sandusky scandal.  That progress was noted by embattled NCAA president Mark Emmert.

“The goal has always been to ensure the university reinforces clear expectations and a daily mindset within athletics that the highest priority must be placed on educating, nurturing and protecting young people,” said Emmert in a statement. “The Executive Committee’s decision to restore the football scholarships provides additional education opportunities and is an important recognition of Penn State’s progress.”

Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett was happy with the NCAA’s decision.

“I am pleased that the NCAA is recognizing the important changes and reforms that the university has undertaken and will continue to make moving forward,” he said.

Northwestern remembers Randy Walker 10 years after his passing

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Ten years ago Wednesday, the college football world was rocked by the unexpected and sudden loss of Northwestern coach Randy Walker.

The athletics department produced a touching video tribute to the man who suffered a heart attack at the age of 52, seven years into his tenure in Evanston.

Walker’s death unexpectedly thrust a young former Wildcats linebacker named Pat Fitzgerald into the head coach’s chair.

“I would prefer to be toasting to his longevity right now,” Fitzgerald says in the video.

Walker posted a 37-45 mark at Northwestern, including a surprising 8-4 campaign in 2000.

That followed a successful nine-year run at Miami University, the southwest Ohio school where he was a player.

Report: Ole Miss violations laid out to NCAA by stepfather of Laremy Tunsil

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The Mississippi football program might not find out its NCAA fate very soon, but the rest of the world learned more specifics regarding the accusations the Rebels face Wednesday.

Sports Illustrated published the results of its investigation, including specific allegations levied by a man in the process of getting a divorce from the mother of star offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil.

Lindsey Miller detailed several potentially serious violations involving Tunsil and his family, and SI was able to view some of the information he says he turned over to the NCAA during extensive interviews.

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations is consistent with Miller’s claims in numerous places, including 12 occasions of free lodging that totaled $2,253. Miller says he told the NCAA those nights were arranged by boosters he met through [Mississippi DL coach Chris] Kiffin, but the NCAA never found that link. Kiffin’s name appears 13 times in the Notice of Allegations, but none of those prove he set Miller up with boosters.

Tunsil was part of a surprisingly star-studded recruiting class in 2013, but head coach Hugh Freeze has consistently defended his program against accusations his recruiting success was thanks to illegal methods.

Freeze, who took over as coach in December 2011, may minimize the NCAA’s case, but nine of the 13 football allegations relate to his tenure there. (Four allegations, including fraudulent ACT scores, occurred under former coach Houston Nutt.) There are four Level I violations under Freeze and a significant Level II failure to monitor charge in which the NCAA says the athletic department and football program failed to monitor Tunsil driving three different loaner cars between August 2014 and June 2015. (That latter allegation is the one Ole Miss is disputing.)

Perhaps complicating matters is the fact Miller went to the NCAA only after having a fallout with Tunsil and his mother, Desiree Polingo, during the summer of 2015.

Polingo denied Miller’s accusations via a statement to SI, and in another statement a lawyer for Tunsil told SI, “You have to consider the source.”

Mississippi has already admitted to 12 of the 13 allegations and self-imposed penalties, but it remains to be seen if the NCAA Committee on Infractions will find the punishment sufficient or more is added.

The full SI story goes into deeper detail about the situations facing not only Ole Miss athletics but also the NCAA enforcement model itself.

NCAA announces common-sense change to bowl selection process

SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 26:  Andy Janovich #35 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers jumps over Jayon Brown #12 of the UCLA Bruins during the Foster Farms Bowl at Levi's Stadium on December 26, 2015 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The NCAA Division I council announced 5-7 teams will still have a chance to make a bowl this fall.

They will have to wait until all of the 6-6 teams have been picked, though.

The common sense rule tweak was announced Wednesday.

Nebraska, Minnesota and San Jose State all made bowls last season despite finishing the regular season 5-7, and coincidentally they all won.

In a statement, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, who serves as chair of the football oversight committee, said the postseason selection process “makes sense and is fair to the schools and the bowls.”

APR scores will continue to be used to designate which 5-7 teams are eligible to take up the bowl slots left available after all of the 6-6 teams have been selected.

After swelling to 41 games last season, the postseason is not set to expand again until at least the 2020 season as a result of a moratorium on the certification of new bowls was established by the council in April.

NCAA inquires about additional Sandusky victims from Penn State lawsuit

BELLEFONTE, PA - OCTOBER 09: Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky (C) leaves the Centre County Courthouse after being sentenced in his child sex abuse case on October 9, 2012 in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. The 68-year-old Sandusky was sentenced to at least 30 years and not more that 60 years in prison for his conviction in June on 45 counts of child sexual abuse, including while he was the defensive coordinator for the Penn State college football team. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Penn State and Joe Paterno‘s family have already done their part to return the tragic Jerry Sandusky saga to the news this year.

Now the NCAA apparently wants to join in.

The Centre Daily Times reports the college sports governing body has requested information regarding two men allegedly victimized by Sandusky, a long-time Penn State assistant coach, in the 1970s.

Their stories came to light in a court filing from a lawsuit involving Penn State and an insurer. The school tried to collect on a policy to help pay settlements it reached with more than 30 individuals who accused Sandusky of sexually abusing them.

The university tried to recoup money for those settlements from liability insurer Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association, but PMA challenged that in court. The two men’s cases were revealed in an order by Philadelphia Judge Gary Glazer that referenced their cases, years earlier than the 10 Sandusky was convicted of in 2012. One said he told Paterno.

The CDT story does not give any indication the NCAA might want to revisit the sanctions that were handed down in 2012.

Rather, it is looking for defense fodder in a defamation lawsuit filed by the family of Paterno, the legendary Nittany Lions head coach

The estate claims the college sports oversight group defamed the man who helmed the program from 1966 until his firing in 2011 after the Sandusky story broke.

A key point is the NCAA’s acceptance of the findings of the Freeh report, the university-commissioned investigation of the Sandusky scandal, which placed blame on four Penn State leaders, including Paterno, who died six months before it was released. The NCAA then levied historic sanctions on the university, including stripping 110 wins from the Nittany Lions, dropping Paterno from first place in the leaderboard for most wins by a Division 1 coach.

But in new documents, the NCAA says it needs the information about the two claimants to refute the estate’s defamation claims.

Sandusky was convicted in 2012, and some of the sanctions Penn State agreed to accept from the NCAA were gradually lifted in the following years.

While Sandusky reportedly continues to work on getting his convictions overturned, it’s not hard to imagine Sandusky’s victims and plenty of members of the Penn State community would prefer to move on from the tragedy — allowing both time to heal in whatever way is possible.

The same can most likely be said of current coach James Franklin, who took the job two-plus years ago after coach Bill O’Brien endured the brunt of the storm and maintained solid recruiting despite the sanctions.

During the spring, Franklin told CBSSports.com, “This is really year one for us in a lot of ways,” citing a return to having close to a full allotment of scholarships.