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Any more relief from NCAA sanctions on Penn State likely a year away

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By Anna Orso
Friday, Nov. 22, 2013, 5:54 p.m.

STATE COLLEGE — More relief from sanctions the NCAA imposed on Penn State could be provided next year should an independent monitor determine the university keeps making progress correcting problems involving the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

Former Sen. George Mitchell addressed Penn State's board of trustees Friday, saying he recommended the NCAA take a multi-phased approach in relieving the unprecedented sanctions levied on the football program in July 2012.

Mitchell, whom the NCAA appointed to oversee Penn State's compliance with its athletics integrity agreement, said he will likely wait until his second annual report in August 2014 to consider additional relief.

After an investigative report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, the NCAA hit Penn State with a reduction in scholarships, a four-year bowl ban, a $60 million fine and the vacation of 111 of legendary coach Joe Paterno's wins.

Mitchell noted Penn State's institutional progress since the scandal has been highlighted by its implementation of nearly all of Freeh's 119 recommendations.

Those recommendations range from changing who can enter certain athletics buildings to altering the structure of the Board of Trustees.

Most recently, Penn State announced it hired New York-based governance consultant Holly Gregory to assist the university in efforts to review its administrative structure.

In September, after Mitchell's inaugural annual report and his recommendation, the NCAA agreed to modify Penn State's sanction agreement so that football scholarships were restored quicker than originally planned.

Penn State is in its second season without the prospect of postseason play. The loss of bowl revenue over four years would total more than$13 million.

When trustees asked Mitchell if lifting the bowl ban two years early would be one of his recommendations in August should he continue to see progress from the university, he wouldn't say.

“I think it's premature to speculate on the precise nature of what further modifications may be possible,” he said. He added that a reduction of sanctions would require three steps: continued efforts from Penn State, a recommendation from him and agreement from the NCAA and the Big Ten.

“We just have to keep up the work and not letting anything slip,” board Chairman Keith Masser said after the meeting. “We've got to continue making improvements. We're encouraged by what we're hearing and what we're doing.”

Athletic Director Dave Joyner wasn't available to comment.

Trustees announced they're adding an alumni-elected trustee to the committee that is set to name the next university president. New Jersey consultant William Oldsey, a trustee who listed his first priority in 2013 as restoring the legacy of Joe Paterno, was added to the now-14-person council.

The addition was mentioned Thursday by outspoken trustee Anthony Lubrano, and council members met behind closed doors Friday to approve the suggestion. Masser denied Lubrano sparked the move and said talks to add Oldsey to the council were under way “for weeks.”

Oldsey said he's looking forward to being a part of the group but deferred comment to Masser, whom he called “the mouthpiece” of the selection council.

The group is aiming to name the next university president by June 2014, when Rodney Erickson is set to retire.

Anna Orso is a freelance reporter based in State College.

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