STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Joe Paterno defended his football program’s integrity in a 7-month-old letter released Wednesday, a day ahead of a report that could forever mar his legacy.

In the letter, written shortly before his death and confirmed as legitimate by his family, Paterno rejected the notion that Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of boys amounted to a “football scandal” or in any way tarnished the accomplishments of his players or Penn State’s reputation as a whole.

The results of Penn State’s internal investigation into the Sandusky scandal are set to be released today.

A team led by former federal judge and FBI ex-director Louis Freeh interviewed hundreds of people to learn how the university responded to warning signs that its once-revered former assistant football coach, a man who helped Paterno win two national titles for a university that touted “success with honor,” was a serial child molester.

Sandusky was convicted on 45 criminal counts last month at a trial that included gut-wrenching testimony from eight young men who said he abused them as boys.

The Freeh report, to be released online at 9 a.m., will focus on Penn State and what it did, or didn’t do, to protect children.

Eight months after Sandusky’s arrest, it remains unclear how top university officials handled reports dating back at least 14 years that Sandusky was behaving inappropriately with boys he met through his charity, bringing them on campus and forcing them into sex acts.

Paterno died from lung cancer in January, two months after school trustees fired him for what they called a failure of leadership.

Paterno offered a passionate defense of the university and its football program in the letter that surfaced for the first time Wednesday.

The Paterno family said the letter was given in draft form to a few former players around December.

One of the ex-players circulated it to other former players Wednesday, and it was posted on the website FightonState.com.

“Over and over again, I have heard Penn State officials decrying the influence of football and have heard such ignorant comments like Penn State will no longer be a ‘football factory’ and we are going to ‘start’ focusing on integrity in athletics,” Paterno wrote.

“These statements are simply unsupported by the five decades of evidence to the contrary, and succeed only in unfairly besmirching both a great university and the players and alumni of the football program who have given of themselves to help make it great.”

Paterno also wrote, “This is not a football scandal and should not be treated as one.”

Among those receiving Paterno’s 712-word missive Wednesday was former linebacker Brandon Short, now an investment banker. He said he will be looking to the report to find “some clarity, hoping that it is a fair assessment of what happened.”