STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — A potential exodus of star athletes. No hope of playing in the postseason. More than a decade of accomplishments erased from the record books. And Joe Paterno’s legacy in shreds.
Penn State football, a longtime powerhouse that was once one of the cleanest, most admired programs in college sports, escaped the so-called death penalty from the NCAA on Monday but was dealt a heavy blow that will cripple it for years to come.
The university agreed to an unprecedented $60 million fine, a four-year ban from postseason play and a cut in the number of football scholarships it can award — the price it will pay for having looked the other way while Jerry Sandusky brought boys onto campus and molested them.
The NCAA also erased 14 years of victories, wiping out 111 of Paterno’s wins and stripping him of his standing as the most successful coach in the history of big-time college football.
“Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people,” NCAA President Mark Emmert declared.
Penn State meekly accepted its punishment, pledging to hold itself to high standards of honesty and integrity.
Penn State spokesman David La Torre said university President Rodney Erickson had no choice but to acquiesce, given the threat of a total shutdown of the football program.
“It was clear Penn State faced an alternative — a long-term death penalty and additional sanctions for the program, university and whole community. Given the situation, he believed the sanctions offered and accepted was the appropriate and course of action,” La Torre said.
At a student union on campus, several dozen alumni and students gasped, groaned and whistled as they watched Emmert’s news conference. The news was a crushing blow to many students.
Nicole Lord, a senior, questioned why Penn State’s student body, and especially its athletes, should be punished “for the wrongs of three men and a monster.”
“They keep breaking our hearts and breaking our hearts and breaking our hearts,” she said.
Sandusky, a former member of Paterno’s coaching staff, was found guilty in June of sexually abusing 10 boys over 15 years, sometimes on campus. An investigation commissioned by the school and released July 12 found that Paterno, who died of lung cancer in January at age 85, and three other top officials at Penn State concealed accusations against Sandusky for fear of bad publicity.
The NCAA’s punishment was announced a day after the school took down a statue of Paterno that stood outside Beaver Stadium.
The sanctions will make it difficult for the Nittany Lions to compete at the sport’s highest level. Raising the specter of an exodus of athletes, the NCAA said current or incoming football players are free to immediately transfer and compete at another school.
For a university that always claimed to hold itself to a higher standard — for decades, Paterno preached “success with honor” — Monday’s announcement completed a stunning fall from grace.
Paterno’s family said in a statement that the sanctions “defame the legacy and contributions of a great coach and educator.”
“This is not a fair or thoughtful action; it is a panicked response to the public’s understandable revulsion at what Sandusky did,” the family said.
Emmert said the penalties reflect “the magnitude of these terrible acts” and also “ensure that Penn State will rebuild an athletic culture that went horribly awry.”
He said the NCAA considered imposing the death penalty, or a complete shutdown of football for a season or more, but worried about the collateral damage.
“Suspension of the football program would bring with it significant unintended harm to many who had nothing to do with this case,” Emmert said. “The sanctions we have crafted are more focused and impactful than that blanket penalty.”
Gov. Tom Corbett expressed gratitude that Penn State escaped the death penalty, saying it would have had a “severe detrimental impact on the citizens of State College, Centre County and the entire commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”
A drop-off in attendance and revenue could damage both the university, where the football team is a moneymaker that subsidizes other sports, and much of central Pennsylvania, where Saturday afternoon football at Penn State is an important part of the economy.
But given Penn State’s famously ardent fans and generous benefactors, the precise economic impact on Penn State and Happy Valley, as the surrounding area is known, remains unclear.
First-year coach Bill O’Brien, who was hired to replace Paterno, will have the daunting task of trying to keep players from fleeing the program while luring new recruits.
“I knew when I accepted the position that there would be tough times ahead,” O’Brien said.
Already, at least one recruit, Ross Douglas, a defensive back from Avon, Ohio, backed out of his commitment. Douglas told Rivals.com on Monday: “We prepared ourselves for it, and today was just the icing on the cake. I love Penn State to death, but I have to do what’s best for me, and I’m going to look elsewhere.”
Separately, the Big Ten announced that Penn State will not be allowed to share in the conference’s bowl revenue during the NCAA’s postseason ban, an estimated loss of about $13 million.
Emmert fast-tracked the penalties rather than go through the usual circuitous series of investigations and hearings.
The NCAA said the $60 million fine is equivalent to the annual gross revenue of the football program. The money will go toward outside programs devoted to preventing child sexual abuse or assisting victims.
Penn State said it will pay the fine in five annual installments of $12 million. The governor demanded assurances from Penn State that taxpayer money will not be used to pay the fine; Penn State said it will cover it with its athletics reserve fund and capital maintenance budget and, if necessary, borrow money.
By throwing out all Penn State victories from 1998 to 2011, the NCAA stripped Paterno of the top spot in the record book. The governing body went all the way back to 1998 because, according to the investigative report, that is the year Paterno and other Penn State officials first learned of an allegation against Sandusky.
Former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden will replace Paterno with 377 major-college victories, while Paterno will be credited with 298.
“I didn’t want it to happen like this,” Bowden said. “Wish I could have earned it, but that’s the way it is.”
Penn State will also lose 20 scholarships a year for four years. Major college football programs are normally allowed 85 scholarship players per year.
The postseason ban is the longest handed out by the NCAA since it gave a four-year punishment to Indiana football in 1960.
Penn State players left a team meeting on campus in State College without talking to reporters. Penn State’s season starts Sept. 1 at home against Ohio University.
“Our heritage, our legacy has been tainted and damaged,” said Troy Cromwell, a wide receiver on the 1986 team that won the second of Paterno’s two national championships. Cromwell said he felt bad for current and incoming players, “but at the end of the day, there were still those kids, those poor kids, and those victims, and we have to think about them first in everything that we do.”
The harshest penalty handed out to a football program came in the 1980s, when the NCAA shut down Southern Methodist University’s team for a year. SMU football has never gotten back to the level of success it had before getting the death penalty.
Jim Delany, commissioner of the Big Ten conference, said he believes Penn State is capable of bouncing back. “I do have a strong sense that many of the ingredients of success are still at Penn State and will be there in future years,” he said.
Russo reported from New York. Associated Press writers Mark Scolforo in State College, Kevin Begos in Pittsburgh, Tom Coyne in Indianapolis and Brent Kallestad in Tallahassee, Fla., contributed to this story, along with AP videographer Dan Huff in State College.
Sanctions handed down by the NCAA on Penn State
$60 MILLION FINE
The NCAA imposed this because it is roughly equivalent to a year of gross revenue from the football program. It will be paid over a five-year period. The money will go to an endowment for “programs preventing child sexual abuse and/or assisting the victims of child sexual abuse.” The NCAA specified that Penn State cannot cut other sports programs or scholarships to pay this penalty.
LOSS OF BOWL REVENUE
The Big Ten announced that Penn State’s cut of the conference’s shared bowl revenue — it estimates about $13 million over four years — will instead be donated to “established charitable organizations in Big Ten communities dedicated to the protection of children.”
Every Penn State win from 1998-2011 has been vacated. This means Joe Paterno no longer has the record for most coaching wins in major college football. He loses 111 wins and the school loses 112 — the Nittany Lions beat Ohio State last season after Paterno was fired Nov. 9. Vacated wins are not the same as forfeits — they don’t count as losses or wins for either school.
LOSS OF 20 SCHOLARSHIPS A SEASON FOR FOUR YEARS
For next season and through the 2016 season, Penn State can only sign 15 recruits a year. Most teams can sign 25. Starting with the 2014 season, the Nittany Lions can only have 65 players on scholarship until after the 2017 season. The usual scholarship limit for major college teams is 85.
WAIVER OF TRANSFER RULES
Players are released from their commitment to Penn State and immediately eligible to transfer without having to sit out a year. Additionally, football players who wish to continue their education without playing football may keep their scholarships as long as they remain academic requirements.
FOUR-YEAR POSTSEASON BAN
Penn State can’t play in a bowl game, the Big Ten championship game, or the college football playoff for the national championship until after the 2016 season.
Penn State and the NCAA agreed that the university will follow a number of conditions and requirements imposed by the association. Among those is that Penn State adopt all the recommendations in the Freeh Report. Among those are that the university:
• Hire an independent monitor of the athletic department who will report to the NCAA, the Big Ten Conference and the Penn State Board of Trustees quarterly on the school’s progress and make recommendations to help implement the terms of the agreement. The selection of the monitor will be done by the NCAA, in consultation with the Big Ten and the university
• Appoint a compliance officer and have him or her lead a council of faculty and senior administrators that will oversee ethical and legal matters.
• Create a hotline for anonymous questions or disclosure of issues regarding athletic department and NCAA issues.
• Provide yearly training on “issues of ethics, civility, standards of conduct and reporting of violations.”
POSSIBLE INDIVIDUAL SANCTIONS
The NCAA reserved the right to impose additional penalties on individuals after the conclusion of any criminal proceedings. Former Vice President Gary Schultz and Athletic Director Tim Curley are charged with perjury and failure to report suspected child abuse. Former president Graham Spanier, whom the Freeh Report found fault with, has not been charged.