'Death blow' for Penn State football

2012-07-24 09:04

Indianapolis — The governing body of US college sports all but dismantled one of the most lucrative programmes in the country on Monday, wiping away 14 years of Penn State football victories and imposing a mountain of fines and penalties for a child sex abuse scandal.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association's sanctions following the worst scandal in the history of college football stopped short of delivering the "death penalty" — shutting down the sport completely. It actually did everything but kill it.

Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant coach, was found guilty in June of sexually abusing several young boys, at times on campus, sometimes after finding them through the charity he founded for at-risk youth.

The NCAA action came in the wake of a devastating report asserting that top university officials — including once legendary coach Joe Paterno — buried abuse allegations against Sandusky more than a decade ago.

The report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh exposed a powerful "culture of reverence" for Penn State's football programme, once thought to be among the cleanest in the US.

The sanctions include the loss of all of Paterno's victories from 1998-2011.

Free agents

The NCAA imposed unprecedented fines of $60m, ordered Penn State to sit out the postseason for four years, capped scholarships at 20 players below the normal limit for four years and placed football on five years' probation.

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

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 programme 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.

"The sanctions needed to reflect our goals of providing cultural change," NCAA President Mark Emmert said as he announced the penalties at a news conference in Indianapolis.

Legacy defamed

The NCAA ruling holds the university accountable for the failure of those in power to protect children and insists that all areas of the university community are held to the same high standards of honesty and integrity.

"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."

Paterno's family said in a statement that the NCAA sanctions defamed his legacy and were a panicked response to the scandal that led to them.

The family also says that punishing "past, present and future" students because of Sandusky's crimes did not serve justice.

Emmert fast-tracked penalties rather than go through the usual circuitous series of investigations and hearings.

The NCAA said the $60m is equivalent to the annual gross revenue of the football programme. The money must be paid into an endowment for external programmes preventing child sexual abuse or assisting victims and may not be used to fund such programmes at Penn State.

Programme devastated

"Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people," 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. Vacated wins are not the same as forfeits — they don't count as losses or wins for either school.

"I didn't want it to happen like this," Bowden said. "Wish I could have earned it, but that's the way it is.

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 programme that tries to compete at the highest level of the sport.

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."

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

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 Freeh said school officials kept what they knew from police and other authorities for years, enabling the abuse to go on.

In a letter to the university's board of trustees, Spanier said he wouldn't have ignored child sexual-abuse complaints as Penn State's president because he was beaten as a child. The letter was first reported on Monday by The Patriot-News.

Spanier's lawyer, Peter Vaira, said Spanier received regular "disciplinary beatings" by his father, and had to have his nose straightened several times. Vaira says the abuse was never sexual.

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.