While all of the sanctions levied on the Penn State weren’t rolled back Tuesday, the one that most harshly penalized the football program was, at least partially.
As you have no doubt heard by now, the NCAA announced today that the scholarship penalties against Penn State have been reduced, with an additional five scholarships added back next year and increasing by five each of the two years after that. It will allow the Nittany Lions to reach the full complement of 85 scholarship players in 2016; under the original sanctions, PSU would’ve been limited to 15 new scholarships offered through 2016, with the 85-man limit unreachable until at least 2018.
It was a monumental day for the Penn State football program; for a handful of student-athletes who will now enjoy the benefits of a free college education that would have otherwise been unavailable at Penn State; and for head coach Bill O’Brien, who has maintained his allegiance to the Nittany Lions despite the crippling sanctions and significant offseason overtures from the NFL.
Suffice to say, O’Brien was overjoyed upon learning of the easing of sanctions this morning.
“Today’s announcement by the NCAA is tremendous news,” O’Brien said in a statement. “As a staff, we are especially pleased for our players, who have proven themselves to be a resilient a group of young men. Penn State has long been known for graduating its student-athletes and providing them with a world-class education. The scholarship additions will allow us to provide more student-athletes with a tremendous opportunity to earn that degree and play football for Penn State.”
The NCAA announced the sanctions against Penn State in July of 2012, a little over six months after O’Brien had been hired to replace the legendary Joe Paterno. There has been legitimate concern both inside and outside of Happy Valley that the sanctions might cause O’Brien to look for a job elsewhere, a place where both his recruiting hands weren’t tied behind his back.
In late December of last year and early January of this year, O’Brien interviewed for head coaching vacancies with both the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns. While O’Brien stated that money was not a factor in his decision to stay at Penn State, he reached an agreement on an amended contract in July that increased his pay by nearly $1 million annually.
After his flirtation with the NFL — O’Brien claimed he was not offered either job — the coach stated that “I made a commitment to these players at Penn State and that’s what I am going to do. I’m not gonna cut and run after one year.“
The fact that the scholarship sanctions were reduced will go a long way in ensuring that O’Brien doesn’t cut and run after two years… or three years… or four years, and so on. While O’Brien viewed the development as “tremendous news” for his players, it’s also a huge win for a university doing everything in its power to fend off overtures to their head football coach and keep him on the Beaver Stadium sidelines.
“I am very happy for Coach O’Brien, the football coaches and staff and the players; especially pleased for our current and future student-athletes, who are the most important reason why we love working in intercollegiate athletics,” athletic director Dave Joyner stated. “We will continue to work hard within the Athletics Integrity Agreement to fully comply and to achieve excellence in everything we do at Penn State.