Fourteen months removed from the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal that rocked the foundation of Penn State football, the NCAA announced Tuesday that it would reverse course and provide relief from the scholarship restrictions that it placed on the university.
In a press release from the NCAA Executive Committee, it was announced that five scholarships would be restored to the Nittany Lions staff beginning the next academic year -- with that number increasing each year until the sanctions are exhausted.
Head coach Bill O'Brien said that he was happy for the decision but added not much would change from his perspective.
"It takes a while to digest and apply this to where you are headed," he said. "When we get that strategy in place, I am not going to talk about it publically. We get to sign more guys, and now we will have a roster of 75 scholarship players next year."
Penn State has been recruiting for two years with a limitation of 65 scholarships -- as opposed to the 85 that other programs are allowed to offer -- but will be allowed to move back to 75 next season. The announcement outlined that the program will be allowed to offer 80 in the class of 2016 and a full compliment for the class of 2017 and beyond.
National recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said that O'Brien has been doing the nation's best job in recruiting despite the sanctions over his head, and he believes that Penn State football will be quickly restored.
"I think the program is already back," he said. "The play on the field has remained consistent, and I think the ability for O'Brien to get some more scholarships will only accelerate the process.
"What this will help with is the depth and being able to fill out the roster. That was the biggest concern when the reductions were announced, and now this will help with that a little bit."
Penn State's recruiting class of 2012 was ranked No. 51 in the nation with only 19 signees as the revelations of the abuse were being detailed. The class of 2013 was ranked No. 43 nationally with 17 signees - including now-starting quarterback Christian Hackenberg.
Currently, the Nittany Lion class is ranked No. 36 by Rivals.com with 12 verbal pledges.
O'Brien said that working within the confines of those restrictions was the most challenging part of the process.
"The difficult part came with the numbers," he said. "Just being able to say you could only take one such and such position. Say it was an offensive tackle … that is what was difficult, that you would only be able to take one kid in the class for that position. That was tough.
"As far as recruiting, we always felt that from the day we walked in here once we were able to get a young man and his parents here on campus that it sold itself."
The other sanctions -- a $60 million fine to help fund child abuse programs, a four-year bowl ban, a five-year probation period, and vacated wins that were forfeited from 1998 through 2011 -- will all remain in place.
Penn State president Rodney Erickson released a statement in support of the move.
"The action taken today by the NCAA, following its review of the positive report issued this month by Sen. George Mitchell, recognizes the significant efforts over the past year to make Penn State a safer, stronger institution," Erickson said. "This news is certainly welcome to our University community, particularly the student athletes who may want to attend Penn State and will now have the means to do so. As we promised throughout this process, we are committed to continuing to improve all of our policies, procedures and actions."
The decision to reinstate the scholarships was endorsed by the Division I Board of Directors following a recommendation by George Mitchell who was the independent Athletics Integrity Monitor for Penn State and a former U.S. Senator.
"Providing relief from the scholarship restrictions will give more student-athletes an opportunity to attend Penn State on athletics scholarship while also creating an incentive for the university to continue its progress under new leadership after President Erickson's impending departure," said Mitchell.
Mitchell said that Penn State was not out of the woods, but it has made strides in improving its culture and compliance.
"While there is more work to be done, Penn State has clearly demonstrated its commitment to restoring integrity in its athletics program," Mitchell said. "The university has substantially completed the initial implementation of all the Freeh Report recommendations and its obligations to the Athletics Integrity Agreement, so relief from the scholarship reductions is warranted and deserved."
The move to alter its initial punishment is a rare move made by the NCAA, but it was a window that was left open in the consent to decree agreement that both entities agreed to which allowed the governing body to make modifications based on the efforts made by Penn State.
In the wake of the announcement multiple coaches were vocally in favor of the reduction in sanctions.
"I am happy for Penn State," he said. "This puts them in a position to help kids that had nothing to do something that had tragically happened in the past."
O'Brien was not surprised to have the support of his peers.
"There are fantastic coaches in this league, and like I've said, I have tremendous respect for them," O'Brien said. "They are tough guys to coach against; they are tough guys to recruit against. But they all believe in the common goal of educating the student athlete and do the best job they can to improve them as football players and people. So I think anytime something good happens to another member of the conference people would be supportive of that."
Farrell said that he also agreed with the decision, adding that it is yet another confusing move by the NCAA but one that will help the long-term health of the Penn State program.
"The entire process in this case has been interesting," he said. "They acted so swiftly -- which is counter to what usually happens -- now they are coming back to make changes, which never happens. I just think this whole thing is interesting.
"For the big picture it is good for Penn State. I think O'Brien has a substance and style in recruiting that can rival Urban Meyer -- or anyone in the conference and country for that matter - and that may be the best news for the program moving forward."