STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The NCAA rule connected to Penn State's sanctions that had the earliest impact on the football program is set to expire Thursday.
The rule allowing Nittany Lions to transfer without having to sit out a year at a new school elapses Aug. 1, according to school officials. On that front at least, Penn State returns to a level playing field with other FBS schools a year after the NCAA levied its landmark penalties for the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
"Emotionally, that's a big chunk out of the way," athletic director Dave Joyner said Wednesday. The football team starts "preseason, the beginning of August, and the transfer rule is not there, so that's one piece done."
Preseason camp begins Monday. Penn State's strengths in 2013 include receiver, tight end and running back; a veteran secondary; and the trio of proven impact players in the front seven of defensive end Deion Barnes, and linebackers Glenn Carson and Mike Hull.
"You know, a lot of things that we talked about last year when I was here, it's water under the bridge," coach Bill O'Brien said two weeks ago at Big Ten media days in Chicago. "But at the same time I've said this over and over again, our staff, myself -- we're thankful for our players. Our players are tough. They're resilient. They're good kids."
O'Brien hopes to build on an 8-4 season in 2012, considered a resounding success given the unprecedented circumstances that faced the program weeks before training camp. Still, other sanctions remain in place.
The requirement to reduce the scholarship roster to 65 players -- 20 fewer than allowed -- for four seasons starts in 2014, though O'Brien has already started working with a pared-down scholarship roster. Penn State has added recruiting emphasis on its walk-on program to help replenish depth.
Three seasons remaining on a four-year bowl ban, with Penn State postseason-eligible again in the 2016 season.
Last year's successful season has built hope among fans that the team can stay competitive though the period in a Big Ten division that includes powerhouse Ohio State. O'Brien remains successful on the recruiting trail, including the arrivals of promising freshmen in potential starting quarterback Christian Hackenberg and tight end Adam Breneman.
The sanctions were handed down July 23, 2012, and the transfer waiver essentially set up a college version of NFL free agency as other schools tried to cherry-pick Nittany Lions. In the end, about 10 players took advantage of the rule in the period until the start of 2012 training camp, most notably star tailback Silas Redd (Southern California).
A few others have left the team since then, including backup quarterback Steven Bench (South Florida), though those players have left primarily for other reasons such as playing time.
Joyner praised O'Brien, assistants and the current players for how they handled the adversity of the past year.
But the story line figures to hang over the program for the foreseeable future, between the rest of the sanctions and the ongoing criminal case against three former top administrators. On Tuesday, a judge in Harrisburg ruled that charges against the three former officials be sent to trial.
Joyner said the program would always been respectful and reverent about the issue, "particularly with those who have been hurt."
"The reality of yesterday and the last couple days (in Harrisburg) -- it's there," Joyner said. "But we also have to remain focused on the job at hand what we have to do. You can't stand paralyzed with stuff that happens."