Last Updated:November 24 @ 12:18 pm

Penn State football slammed with NCAA sanctions

By Tom Coyne and Ralph D. Russo

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Penn State football was all but leveled Monday by an NCAA ruling that wiped away 14 years of coach Joe Paterno's victories and imposed a mountain of fines and penalties, crippling a program whose pedophile assistant coach spent uncounted years molesting children, sometimes on university property.

The sanctions by the governing body of college sports, which capped eight months of turmoil on the central Pennsylvania campus, stopped short of delivering the "death penalty" of shutting down the sport. But the NCAA hit Penn State with $60 million in fines, ordered it out of the postseason for four years, and will cap scholarships at 20 below the normal limit for four years. The school also will be on probation for five years.

Any current or incoming football players are free to immediately transfer and compete at another school.

"Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people," NCAA President Mark Emmert said as he announced the penalties at a news conference in Indianapolis.

The sanctions all stem from the case of former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted last month of sexually abusing 10 boys over 15 years. An investigation commissioned by the school and released July 12 found that Paterno, who died in January, and several other top officials at Penn State stayed quiet about accusations against Sandusky in 1998 and 2001.

The NCAA ruling holds the entire school community accountable for failing to protect children.

"Against this backdrop, Penn State accepts the penalties and corrective actions announced today by the NCAA," Penn State President Rodney Erickson said in a statement. "With today's announcement and the action it requires of us, the University takes a significant step forward."

The Big Ten announced that Penn State would not be allowed to share in the conference's bowl revenue during the NCAA's postseason ban, an estimated loss of about $13 million. And the NCAA reserved the right to add additional penalties.

Emmert fast-tracked penalties rather than go through the usual circuitous series of investigations and hearings. The NCAA said the $60 million is equivalent to the annual gross revenue of the football program. The money must be paid into an endowment for external programs preventing child sexual abuse or assisting victims and may not be used to fund such programs at Penn State.

"The sanctions needed to reflect our goals of providing cultural change," Emmert said.

By vacating 112 Penn State victories from 1998-2011, the sanctions cost Paterno 111 wins. Former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden will now hold the top spot in the NCAA record book with 377 major-college wins. Paterno, who was fired days after Sandusky was charged, will be credited with 298 wins.

The scholarship reductions mean Penn State's roster will be capped at 65 scholarship players beginning in 2014. The normal scholarship limit for major college football programs is 85. Playing with 20 less is devastating to a program that tries to compete at the highest level of the sport.

In comparison, the harsh NCAA sanctions placed upon USC several years ago left the Trojans with only 75 scholarships per year over a three-year period.

The postseason ban is the longest handed out by the NCAA since it gave a four-year ban to Indiana football in 1960.

Bill O'Brien, who was hired to replace Paterno, now faces the daunting task of building future teams with severe limitations, and trying to keep current players from fleeing to other schools. Star players such as tailback Silas Redd and linebacker Gerald Hodges are now essentially free agents.

"I knew when I accepted the position that there would be tough times ahead," O'Brien said. "But I am committed for the long term to Penn State and our student athletes."

Players left a team meeting on campus in State College, Pa., without talking to reporters. Penn State's season starts Sept. 1 at home against Ohio University.

The sanctions came a day after the school took down the statue of Paterno that stood outside Beaver Stadium and was a rallying point for the coaches' supporters throughout the scandal.

At a student union on campus, several dozen alumni and students gasped, groaned and whistled as they watched Emmert's news conference.

"It was kind of just like a head shaker," said Matt Bray, an 18-year-old freshman from West Chester, Pa. "You knew it was coming, but it was hard to hear."

Emmert had earlier said he had "never seen anything as egregious" as the horrific crimes of Sandusky and the cover-up by Paterno and others at the university, including former Penn State President Graham Spanier and athletic director Tim Curley.

The Penn State investigation headed by former FBI Director Louis Freeh said school officials kept what they knew from police and other authorities for years, enabling the abuse to go on.

There had been calls across the nation for Penn State to receive the "death penalty," and Emmert had not ruled out that possibility as late as last week - though Penn State did not fit the criteria for it. That punishment is for teams that commit a major violation while already being sanctioned.

"This case is obviously incredibly unprecedented in every aspect of it," Emmert said, "as are these actions that we're taking today."

Penn State football under Paterno was built on - and thrived upon - the premise that it did things the right way. That it was not a football factory where only wins and losses determined success. Every major college football program tries to send that message, but Penn State built its brand on it.

Paterno's "Grand Experiment" was about winning with integrity, graduating players and sending men into the world ready to succeed in life, not just football. But he still won a lot - a record-setting 409 victories.

The NCAA had never sanctioned, or seriously investigated Penn State. Few, if any, national powers could make that claim.

Southern California, Ohio State, Alabama, all have run afoul of the NCAA. Even Notre Dame went on probation for two years after a booster lavished gifts on players in the 1990s.

The harshest penalty handed down to a football program came in the `80s, when the NCAA shut down SMU's team for a year. SMU football has never gotten back to the level of success it had before the "death penalty."

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8 Comments

  1. wdjincComment by wdjinc
    July 23, 2012 @ 3:02 pm

    Could have at least waited for trial to view all of the facts before making judgments. The ex-FBI guy gave subjective information re: Paterno’s involvement in conspiracy to cover-up and NCAA over-reached by making decision before all of the facts were given in a court of law.

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  2. FlaJimComment by FlaJim
    July 23, 2012 @ 3:22 pm

    More of the senior staff at Penn State should have been prosecuted for the cover up which was a disgraceful display of football program first; integrity, decency, and morality a distant second.

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  3. Comment by Anonymous
    July 23, 2012 @ 3:36 pm

    The Freeh report is an OPINION, not based on facts and contradicts the grand jury testimony of both McQuery and Paterno. Some of the lawyers representing the accusers (Jeffery Anderson law firm and SNAP) have gained million dollar settlements for their clients in class action suits against the Catholic Church using the media to whip up emotional frenzy in the public & have the cases decided on emotion, not fact. Penn State students have long history of living up to Paterno’s “Do the right thing” “education before football.” Paterno donated millions to build a library and spiritual center on campus which show where his priorities were. This seems to be a rush to judgment before the facts are known. This witch hunt against Paterno is outrageous. The punishment against the students is unfair.

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    • ClarkCComment by ClarkC
      July 23, 2012 @ 4:35 pm

      Actually, the Freeh report was based on facts, not opinions, including emails and handwritten notes from Joe Paterno that established his role in covering up the incidents.

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  4. wedeyComment by wedey
    July 23, 2012 @ 5:15 pm

    The sad thing about all this is the innocent players that were on the ball fields during this time and the future players who will have to suffer. Other than them, I don’t have any compassion for Penn State and I am glad that took Paterno’s statue down.

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  5. Comment by Anonymous
    July 23, 2012 @ 6:48 pm

    There were no e-mails to or from Paterno. Freeh gave his opinion of what he thought the e-mails from others implied. Wait for the facts before making judgment which affects so many people. As for taking away the victories from 1998-2011, Sandusky had resigned in 1999. The 1998 charges against him were investigated but the DA did not indict.

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  6. Dingbat36Comment by Dingbat36
    July 23, 2012 @ 7:26 pm

    It’s correct to haul down the statue of a man who sat mute and allowed a pedophile to abuse young children……….including his own.

    It’s quite another to punish the young men who played on those football teams for 14 years.

    Looks a lot like the perfect case of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

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  7. Gabrielle SymeComment by Gabrielle Syme
    July 24, 2012 @ 6:47 am

    There are similarities between Penn State and the Church. Big one: call the authorities if a crime has been committed and don’t try to handle it internally. Another big one: lots of people end up paying for the actions of a very few.

    What I wish we, as a society, would examine is this: why the selective moral outrage? Why is justice only sought when specialist groups sniff money? More kids are abused every year by deviants in the public schools across the nation than they ever are, or have been, by the Church or the Big Ten. The numbers are there. Look it up. My cynical belief is that it has to do with money. And public schools don’t have enough to make it worth anyone’s time or effort.

    So, until the next high profile abuse occurs, children are NOT protected.

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