Penn State football has paid its penance, and the NCAA's executive committee on Monday lifted a bowl ban on the program and will return the full complement of 85 scholarships by 2015-16.
So what does it all mean? Read on.
Penn State is relevant again: It's not as if the Lions' accomplishments the past two seasons went unnoticed, but when a team is ineligible to win its league or compete in a bowl game, it naturally falls off the national radar. Penn State is still in the building stages under first-year coach James Franklin, but Lions players now can eye a championship in a league that, as we saw Saturday, looks very vulnerable. Michigan State remains the Big Ten's most complete team, but Penn State hosts both the Spartans and Ohio State. Depth remains a concern but Penn State should get better as the year goes along. A bowl appearance seems extremely likely, and don't be surprised if the Lions are a factor in the East Division race.
Franklin's recruiting pitch is even stronger: Although there had been rumblings about the bowl ban being lifted as early as last summer, Penn State had to operate as if it would be sidelined for two more postseasons. Franklin doesn't need much help in landing top recruits, but now he can sell the opportunity to reach bowl games and compete for championships right away. That's especially important as Penn State also has opportunities for recruits to contribute immediately.
Roster depth isn't a long-term problem: When the sanctions came down in 2012, many pointed to the scholarship penalties as the most damaging, more than the four-year bowl ban. It was hard to argue. But the restoration of the 85 scholarships by 2015-16 should make depth less of a concern going forward. Penn State won't have the truncated roster USC used for years and years. The Lions will be a young team for a while, but they'll have the scholarship players.
The Big Ten gets a boost: After a disastrous Saturday that some think removed the league from the College Football Playoff picture, the Big Ten needed some good news. Penn State returning to eligibility both for the league title game and the postseason provides some. The Lions haven't looked like world-beaters the first two weeks, but they're 2-0 and boast a ton of talented young players who will be energized by this news. Plus, they're a flagship program working toward restoring elite status. After Michigan's repeated flops and Nebraska's shakiness, the Big Ten needs Penn State to be Penn State.
The PSU community will be more united: Total harmony might not be possible because of the emotion that still surrounds Joe Paterno, whose family will continue to pursue its lawsuit against the NCAA and Penn State. But a larger portion of the Penn State community will be able to move forward. The lingering penalties for players who had nothing to do with the Jerry Sandusky scandal brewed bitterness toward the PSU administration, the NCAA, the former board of trustees and others, but the mood should change a bit in State College.
The East Division steals more of the spotlight: The concern when the Big Ten realigned its divisions was that the East would garner most of the attention. Penn State's restoration to bowl eligibility thickens the plot in a division that already includes Michigan State and Ohio State. The West Division has looked relatively weak so far, as Minnesota has been the only team without a scare in its first two games.
Franklin's life gets even better: What hasn't gone right for Franklin since he arrived at Penn State in January? Monday's announcement brings even more news for the lead Lion. His contract includes a $200,000 bonus for making a bowl game and bonuses for both making the Big Ten title game ($250,000) and winning it ($350,000). Franklin doesn't need much to get energized about coaching Penn State, but he'll be even peppier now.
Bill O'Brien becomes a vital figure in program history: There are some PSU fans still bitter about O'Brien's departure to the NFL after two seasons. Three words: Get. Over. It. Remember the doom-and-gloom predictions for Penn State when the sanctions came down in July 2012? How the program wouldn't be stable until 2020 or beyond? Thank O'Brien for stabilizing things masterfully, and thank an exceptional 2012 senior class that included linebacker Michael Mauti, quarterback Matt McGloin and other standouts.