O'Brien happy, looks forward to added scholarships

Penn State coach Bill O’Brien said Tuesday he was happy for his players and for university officials with the news that the NCAA had modified the sanctions concerning scholarship limitations with the football program.

“We’re happy right now for our players, our student athletes here in our football program,” O’Brien said on the weekly Big Ten coaches call. “They’re a resilient bunch of kids. We’re happy for our people here at Penn State … that have worked extremely hard to implement the recommendations of the Freeh Report.”

The NCAA Executive Committee decided to gradually restore football scholarships starting with the 2014 signing class. Penn State may sign a maximum of 20 high school seniors in February and carry as many as 75 scholarship players on its 2014 team.

Those numbers in 2015 rise to 25, the full allocation of scholarships allowed for one class to any FBS university, and a total of 80. Starting in 2016, Penn State may have the maximum of 85 scholarship players on its roster.

Under the sanctions handed down in July 2012, following the Freeh Report in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal, Penn State could sign only 15 high school seniors annually in the four-year period between 2013 and 2016, and carry a maximum of 65 scholarship players on its roster from 2014 through 2017.

O’Brien said he and his staff are working on a revised recruiting strategy stemming from the higher scholarship numbers. The Nittany Lions currently have verbal commitments from 12 players for the freshman Class of 2014.

“It takes a while to digest everything and then apply it to where you’re headed,” O’Brien said. “Even when we get that strategy into place, I’m not going to talk about it publicly. 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.”

The NCAA announcement did not cover any other sanctions besides scholarship numbers. Penn State is banned from post-season play through the 2015 season. The NCAA also fined the university $60 million and vacated 111 wins posted by former coach Joe Paterno between 1998 and 2011.

O’Brien cautioned that the Nittany Lions “have a long way to go” and “work as hard as we can and continuing every single day to try to do the right thing.”

On the possibility the Lions could go to a bowl game before the four years are up, O’Brien said, “we have to keep doing what we’re doing, which is working extremely hard to do what’s right for the football program here, for our players, our student athletes and most importantly for the university.

“When the rules change a little bit, we just adapt to those rules. Right now, the rules are that we can sign a few more guys and start to get back to 85 scholarships a little bit sooner. We know we can’t go to a bowl and can’t compete for a (Big Ten) championship, but we definitely can get more on an even playing field numbers-wise. That’s what we’re concentrating on as a staff.”

--Joe Juliano