Penn State sanctions softened; hopefully, it’s just a start

Penn State University’s football program finally got some good news from the NCAA recently.

The college sports governing body restored some of the scholarships taken away over the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal. Five scholarships will be restored next year and 15 more will be phased in until the school reaches the limit of 85 in 2016-17.

The move essentially moves up the timetable for Penn State to compete on an even scholarship playing field by about three years.

This is hard-earned good news for the football program and, just as importantly, the entire university, which is trying to move on from the shame of the Sandusky scandal.

The move toward mercy was recommended by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, who has been serving as Penn State’s athletics integrity monitor. Mitchell said he made the recommendation based on how the university’s new leadership has reacted since the scandal “in the face of considerable opposition within the Penn State community.”

There can be no doubt that serious mistakes were made within the athletics program and the former university leadership regarding the Sandusky molestation scandal. Those mistakes merited serious penalties from the NCAA due to a lack of institutional control in the situation.

It is our belief that the penalties from the NCAA were excessive, penalizing in particular today student athletes at Penn State, who had nothing to do with the infractions.

It is our belief that the NCAA, upon reflection, is realizing its penalties may have been excessive.

By assigning Mitchell, a respected former U.S. Senator, to oversee Penn State’s compliance, the NCAA has the cover to reduce the penalties and save face.

The NCAA hinted that the four-year ban on postseason bowl play may be reduced in the future. We believe it should end after this year.

Our hunch is that if Penn State continues its compliance track record through this year, Mitchell could be making such a recommendation.

We must never forget the victims in this scandal.

But at the same time, those who should have been punished have been or will be punished, the school has been working hard on every compliance order and the leaders of the football program have played with the cards they have been dealt without complaint.

All those factors merited the restoration of the scholarships and merit a further softening of the sanctions against Penn State.