Penn State Sanctions Explained: Scholarship and Roster Reductions

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While conversing with a fellow Penn State alumnus about the football team and the sanctions against them – a seemingly daily occurrence – I realized there is a good deal of confusion in terms of the scholarship and roster limitations going forward. Even those who follow college football closely tend to be confused with how scholarship numbers work.

According to the NCAA’s website:

“Four-year reduction of grants-in-aid. For a period of four years commencing with the 2013-2014 academic year and expiring at the conclusion of the 2016-2017 academic year, the NCAA imposes a limit of 15 initial grants-in-aid (from a maximum of 25 allowed) and for a period of four years commencing with the 2014-2015 academic year and expiring at the conclusion of the 2017-2018 academic year a limit of 65 total grants-in-aid (from a maximum of 85 allowed) for football during each of those specified years. In the event the total number of grants-in-aid drops below 65, the University may award grants-in-aid to non-scholarship student-athletes who have been members of the football program as allowed under Bylaw” (

There are two different elements one must understand in reference to the four-year reduction in scholarships portion of the sanctions:

1) A maximum of 15 scholarships available (25 maximum, typically) per year during the 2013-2014 to 2016-2017 seasons.

2) A maximum of 65 scholarship athletes (85 maximum, typically) on roster per year during the 2014-2015 to 2017-2018 seasons.

The reason for the two-year hiatus before implementing the roster reduction (85 to 65) is to allow all current scholarship student-athletes to maintain their status on scholarship. This is one spot the NCAA is correct; there is no way Penn State could drop from 85 to 65 scholarship players by this upcoming season, unless 20+ student-athletes transferred or completely lost their scholarship – the NCAA couldn’t bank on the transfers (and that extreme an exodus is highly unlikely) or allow kids who earned their scholarship to arbitrarily lose out. Waiting two years until the 65-athlete roster limit, paired with two previous years of reductions in available scholarships, allows a natural decrease in total roster numbers without any current student-athletes losing their earned scholarship. 

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