(CNN) — In an unprecedented action, the NCAA is restoring scholarships to the Penn State University football team that were originally lost last year when the school was sanctioned for its handling of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
Sandusky, 69, a former defensive coordinator, was convicted last year of sexually abusing 10 boys he met through his charity. He is serving a 30-to 60-year prison term.
But the sanctions against Penn State mostly revolved around an alleged cover-up by the university’s former president, vice president and athletic director.
All three men are facing trial in the spring on charges they lied to authorities and never reported an incident of sexual abuse witnessed in 2001 in the Penn State locker room facilities.
The gradual restoration of scholarships was recommended to the NCAA board by former Sen. George Mitchell, the athletics integrity monitor for the university, for the school’s “groundbreaking work” and “strong commitment to restore integrity” in the last year.
Mitchell said Tuesday that the school has consistently cooperated with the NCAA since the sanctions were imposed. Mitchell said more than 120 reforms have been implemented, and Penn State has become a model for reform at other schools.
Other sanctions levied last year, including a post-season ban, a $60 million fine and 13 years of vacated wins of legendary coach Joe Paterno, remain in place.
Mitchell said he recommended a post-season ban stay in place, for now, to give the university a continued incentive to work toward reform.
The NCAA has never before rescinded sanctions imposed against a university.
The restoration will mean that Penn State’s football team, under coach Bill O’Brien, will get five more scholarships next year, and 10 more each of the following three seasons. By the start of the 2016 season, Penn State will again have the full amount of scholarships.
Penn State President Rodney Erickson said the change represents “significant efforts over the past year to make Penn State a safer, stronger institution.”
NCAA President Mark Emmert, who has been widely criticized for relying on the university’s independent report instead of launching his own NCAA investigation at Penn State, said the board was “pleased” to make this decision.
In making his recommendation to the NCAA board, Mitchell said he considered the sanctions that most affect student athletes. He also noted a great divide among the Penn State community over how the Sandusky scandal has been handled.
The university recently settled lawsuits with several men who said Sandusky abused them.
The role of Paterno, who died in January 2012, in the cover-up has been widely debated. In an internal investigation done for the university, FBI director Louis Freeh concluded that Paterno played a role, but former state prosecutors handling the case said they found no evidence of that.