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Reduction of sanctions could help Penn State football

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Penn State football coach Bill O'Brien instructs his players during a game against Eastern Michigan Sept. 7 at Beaver Stadium. PSU won, 45-7. Credit: Courtesy of MCT

Penn State football coach Bill O’Brien instructs his players during a game against Eastern Michigan Sept. 7 at Beaver Stadium. PSU won, 45-7.
Credit: Courtesy of MCT

After nearly two years of heartbreak, allegations and eventual unprecedented sanctions handed down by the NCAA, things might be looking up for the Penn State football program.

In the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal, college sport’s governing body ordered the university to pay $60 million over five years to a special endowment created to fund programs preventing child sexual abuse, initiated a four-year bowl ban, vacated victories between 1998-2011 and took away scholarships. A bit of that changed Tuesday.

PSU initially was only going to have 65 football scholarships beginning in 2014, but instead will receive 75 that year, 80 in 2015 and the full 85 in 2016.

That could go a long way to restoring a program and school that was ravished by the scandal, potentially bringing it back to Big Ten relevance quickly.

“We’re happy right now for our players; our student-athletes that are here and our football program,” PSU coach Bill O’Brien said Tuesday on the Big Ten teleconference. “They’re a resilient bunch of kids… We’re just trying to take it one day at a time and working as hard as we can and continuing every single day to try to do the right thing.”

O’Brien is 11-5 in just over a year as the head man of the Nittany Lions and is scheduled to lead them to Indiana for its Big Ten opener Saturday. PSU fell at home to Ohio State 35-23, in 2012 and is scheduled to visit Columbus at the end of October.

The NCAA announcing the restoration of the scholarships to the program could help to improve recruiting in the immediate future, but O’Brien said his strategy for attracting players to State College is between him and his coaching staff.

“Obviously, we’re able to sign some more guys and be able to have a roster of 75 scholarship players next year so things will change and we’ll see how that goes,” O’Brien said. “Right now we’re not going to comment on that or talk about that. That’s between the staff, myself and that’s about it.”

The Nittany Lions and Buckeyes sport two of the largest stadiums in college football, and the rivalry that has ensued within the confines of each has yielded nothing short of exciting contests. OSU leads the overall series 14-8, with many of the matchups occurring when both teams were ranked.

OSU coach Urban Meyer’s only time facing PSU was the victory at Beaver Stadium last season.

Meyer was not asked about the reduced sanctions Tuesday on the Big Ten teleconference.

OSU is set to open conference play Saturday in Columbus against No. 23 Wisconsin at 8 p.m. The Buckeyes will take on Penn State in Columbus Oct. 26.

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