Citing progress made since strict sanctions were imposed in 2012, the NCAA executive committee plans to begin restoring football scholarships at Penn State beginning next season. Coach Bill O'Brien and the Nittany Lions would receive five scholarships next season, 25 in 2015 and return to the NCAA Division I football standard of 85 in 2016. "Penn State has made a serious, good faith effort to embrace and adopt the changes needed to enhance its future," former United States senator George Mitchell said on a conference call Tuesday. Mitchell holds the title of independent integrity monitor with the NCAA. O'Brien, who received a new contract after his first season in Happy Valley, issued a statement Tuesday following the announcement. "As a staff, we are especially pleased for our players, who have proven themselves to be a resilient group of young men who are able to look ahead, focus and overcome adversity," the statment read. "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." NCAA president Mark Emmert said on the same call that the executive committee came to the decision to reduce Penn State's punishment as "an important recognition of the university's progress." Mitchell said Penn State "substantially completed the initial implementation of over 120 tasks outlined" by the NCAA. The relief could include mitigation of the current postseason ban, Mitchell added. However, he would not say whether consideration to lifting the bowl ban could come as soon as December. "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 was put in place by the NCAA executive committee to oversee the Athletics Integrity Agreement with Penn State and will remain in that capacity. The Big Ten said it is not currently considering a reduction of punishment handed down by the conference, which includes ineligibility for the conference championship game. "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," said Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner.
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