PSU Football Coach Grateful for Bowl Chance

Penn State coach James Franklin has been flooded with congratulatory messages about his football team's bowl prospects now that the NCAA has lifted the most severe sanctions to the program for the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

Not so fast -- the Nittany Lions have a chance to become eligible for a bowl, they're not in one yet. Still, the chance for a late December bowl berth is something that was missing from their early-season hopes.

"Now, there is nothing being held back from them in terms of opportunities," Franklin said Tuesday. "They have the ability to chase their dreams now."

Penn State was halfway through a four-year postseason ban handed down during the summer of 2012. Penn State also will be allowed to have the full complement of football scholarships in 2015.

"It will have an impact on this class,'' Franklin said. ``I don't know if it will be as big an impact as some people think.''

Franklin said Tuesday there are 49 players who could have left when the sanctions hit. They were all given a standing ovation at a team meeting Monday night.

"We are all in debt to them," Franklin said."We're going to play for them because they were here for this program and this university when we needed them most."

Franklin said his only disappointment was that his team learned about the news through social media.

Penn State senior linebacker Mike Hull said he was eating lunch with teammates at a Chik-fil-A when they all found out on Twitter. Hull was one of the holdovers who never wavered in his commitment toward the program.

"I'm a Penn State guy at heart," Hull said, adding that he never thought the bowl ban would be lifted.

There was a peaceful and jubilant celebration on campus late Monday night after the lifting was announced. The mob of students chanted former coach Joe Paterno's name and, of course, threw in the popular "We Are" chant.

The rally was starkly contrasted a mess 2 1/2 years ago when disgruntled students took to the streets and wracked their college town in violence after Paterno was fired.

Good times - and big games - are back at Penn State.

``Last night was an opportunity maybe for that pride and that excitement to explode,'' Franklin said.

The sanctions were first imposed two years ago, including a four-year postseason ban. The surprise announcement on Monday, linked to progress the school has made reforming its athletic program, moved the university a step farther away from the fallout from Sandusky, the former assistant coach convicted of sexual abuse of 10 boys, including acts at university facilities.

The scandal badly tarnished what had been one of college sports' most respected programs, led to charges of a criminal cover-up against former university administrators Graham Spanier, Gary Schultz and Tim Curley -- whose cases are still pending.

Some of the 40 scholarships the program was originally docked were restored earlier than expected a year ago.

The university still must pay a $60 million fine, vacate 111 wins that came under Paterno, plus another victory under interim coach Tom Bradley, and the school will remain under monitoring.

'It's never as clean as everybody thinks it is," Franklin said.

The Nittany Lions (2-0) play Saturday at Rutgers. If the Nittany Lions win the East division, they will be eligible to play in the Big Ten championship game.

Penn State went 15-9 during the first two seasons of the sanctions under coach Bill O'Brien, who was hired to replace Paterno.

Paterno was the winningest coach in major college football history when he was fired not long after Sandusky, his former defensive coordinator, was charged in November 2011. Paterno died in January 2012 and lost his record when the NCAA vacated those 111 victories.

O'Brien left for the Houston Texans of the NFL after last season and Franklin was hired away from Vanderbilt to take his place.

Franklin said no one at Penn State ever told him during his job offer that the sanctions would be eliminated.

"That carrot was never dangled in front of me, that carrot was never dangled in front of recruits," he said. "It was very black and white. These are what the sanctions say right now. This is what we're living with and we're moving forward."

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