INDIANAPOLIS — No death penalty. More like slow death.
Wiped out in the record book. Wiped out in the wallet. Wiped out in the ability to recruit, and keep what it already has.
Penn State got slammed by the NCAA on Monday in every way.
The governing body of college sports took 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 years molesting children, sometimes on school property.
The sanctions imposed by the NCAA on Monday also include fines of $60 million, orders for Penn State to sit out the postseason for four years, capped scholarships at 20 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.
The NCAA’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.
“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.
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 the coach’s legacy, and were a panicked response to the sex abuse scandal.
The family also says that punishing “past, present and future” students because of Jerry Sandusky’s crimes did not serve justice.
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.
Sandusky, a former Penn State defensive coordinator, was found guilty in June of sexually abusing young boys, sometimes on campus. 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 for years about accusations against Sandusky.
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.
“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 told the AP. “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 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.”
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said that players will likely be allowed to transfer within the conference, something that is usually restricted. The possible exodus isn’t confined to just the next few months. Penn State players currently on the roster are free to transfer without restrictions for the length of their careers.
Penn State 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 a 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.”
Emmert said there were concerns about the collateral damage of shutting down Penn State football for a year, and that’s why the death penalty was ruled out.
“It hurts people who had absolutely nothing to do with this process, which is always the case,” he said.
Emmert added that no attempt was made for the sanctions to be more severe than the death penalty.
“That isn’t a comparison I or anyone else needs to make,” he said. “People in the media can make those comparisons.”
Delany said he believes Penn State is capable of bouncing back from the sanctions.
“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.