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UCF's O'Leary supports further softening of PSU's sanctions

| Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, 7:42 a.m.

DUBLIN — With a further softening of NCAA sanctions placed on the Penn State program potentially coming soon, add George O'Leary to the list of those in the college football community who would welcome it.

Speaking before leading Central Florida's practice at the Carton House facility about a half hour outside Dublin, O'Leary cited that “right now, the NCAA is very student-friendly,” in endorsing a potential returning of postseason eligibility for the Nittany Lions this season and next.

“I think (the NCAA) probably should (provide relief),” said O'Leary, a college head coach for 19 seasons.

“I didn't think the NCAA should have got as involved as they did as early as they did with that whole situation.”

Penn State in 2012 was penalized with a four-year bowl ban, the loss of 20 scholarships during each of four seasons, a $60 million fine and the vacation of 14 seasons worth of prior wins.

The NCAA acted upon the findings of the controversial PSU-commissioned Freeh Report investigations into the university's response to alleged child sexual abuse by former Nittany Lions assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.

Sandusky was sentenced to 30-60 years in a federal prison upon being found guilty of 45 counts of abuse. Freeh alleged Penn State officials covered up Sandusky's acts.

Last September, the NCAA scaled back scholarship reductions spread over these next two seasons and hinted that further rollbacks could be awarded this fall.

Former Sen. George Mitchell – appointed an independent athletics integrity officer to monitor Penn State's progress in adhering to Freeh Report recommendations – has another report due any day now.

It was on Mitchell's recommendation last year the NCAA acted in giving PSU back some scholarships.

Citing two unnamed sources within the NCAA, the Sporting News reported Wednesday that Penn State will have a “strong case” to get its final year of postseason probation lifted.

Asked last week about the timing and nature of Mitchell's report, NCAA spokesperson Emily James responded in an email to the Tribune-Review, “I do not have any information outside of what you mentioned on the Mitchell report as of now.”

While predecessor Bill O'Brien was known to campaign for sanctions relief, new Lions coach James Franklin has repeatedly declined to openly do so.

Asked last week about the topic, Franklin said, “We can't change it, so we're just going to focus on what we have. And we have great kids here and we have great players. We just need more.”

Penn State is scheduled to practice later Thursday at University College Dublin.

The Lions open their season against UCF 8:30 a.m. EST Saturday at Croke Park Stadium.

Notes:UCF forced 26 turnovers last season to rank among the top quarter nationally. “We put a lot of emphasis on that this summer and this camp: getting takeaways and scoring on defense,” senior safety Clayton Geathers said. “We don't have to score on offense all the time if you can score on defense.” ... Dating to September 2012, UCF has won 20 of its past 23 games, including 13 of its past 14. The Golden Knights' lone loss since Dec. 1, 2012, was 28-25 to No. 12 South Carolina on Sept. 28 of last season. “The taste in our mouth from that game is still there,” said senior receiver J.J, Worton, who had seven catches for 101 yards and a TD in a 34-31 win against PSU last season. “That everyone on the outside talking is saying we can't (go 12-1) again is just fuel to our fire.”

Chris Adamski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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