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Happy days in Happy Valley

Frank Haynes,
Senior College Football Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The sun is shining a little brighter in the center of the Keystone State because the Penn State football program was just given a new sense of purpose.

With Monday's announcement from the NCAA Executive Committee that some of the strictest penalties imposed against Penn State for its role in the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal were being lifted, those involved with the university, both past and present, are rightfully overjoyed.

The modifications to the punishment levied by the NCAA back in 2012 include the immediate end of a lengthy postseason ban, to which the Big Ten also has agreed by making the Nittany Lions eligible to play in the conference championship game this season, as well as the restoring of a full complement of scholarships (85) beginning in 2015.

The $60 million the university was fined and the vacating of all victories amassed between 1998 and 2011 are penalties still in place, but the NCAA's recent decision means first-year head coach James Franklin and his staff will be able to continue the rebuilding of Penn State's once proud football program unimpeded.

"I am very happy for coach (James) Franklin, the coaches and staff and, most importantly, our outstanding football student-athletes," new Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour said. "I am gratified for the student-athletes who have remained resilient, committed and dedicated to Penn State during the past three years. We will continue to work hard and strive for integrity and academic and athletic excellence every day and to provide our student-athletes with the best experience possible."

The NCAA's action came following the release of another glowing annual report from former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, the independent athletics integrity monitor assigned to Penn State.

This is the second positive report issued by Mitchell, who was selected by the NCAA to keep tabs on Penn State's progress and to insure the university complied with all instruction with regard to maintaining the highest level of integrity within the athletics department. In his first report released last September, Mitchell also stated how pleased he was with the corrective measures the school had taken, thus prompting the NCAA to modify the scholarship reduction from 65 to 75.

Franklin, who took the job last winter despite knowing the restrictions in place, shared his feelings following Monday's decree.

"We are very appreciative of the opportunities the NCAA and Big Ten have provided with today's announcement," Franklin said. "This team plays for each other. We play for Penn State, our families, the former players, our students, alumni, fans and the community. We are so proud to represent Penn State and the Big Ten Conference and are working hard to prepare for our Big Ten opener at Rutgers."

To many, this development is just another step in the program's long-term recovery. Current and former players alike echoed the coach's sentiment, including sophomore tight end Adam Breneman on his Twitter account.

Wrote Breneman, "Thank you to everyone who supported us when few did ... we came here for you guys! It's a great day to be a Penn Stater."

Former standout linebacker Michael Mauti, now a member of the NFL's Minnesota Vikings, also chimed in via social media: "Proud day for Penn State Football. All I can say is ... It's about time."

But to some, like reserve quarterback D.J. Crook, as welcomed as Monday's announcement was, it's business as usual for the resilient Nittany Lions.

"Don't say Penn State is back, when we've been here the whole time," Crook said on his Twitter feed. "This opportunity is awesome, but Rutgers is up next. We got work to do."

Despite experiencing so much turmoil the last few years, that's the prevailing thought of this team. Take one game at a time, and let the chips fall where they may. At least now, the Lions will be playing with more than pride on the line.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Frank Haynes at fhaynes@sportsnetwork.com.

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