Penn State students react to hearing NCAA sanctions against the university. (Gene J. Puskar / Associated…)
The NCAA dropped the hammer on Penn State on Monday, crippling the university's football program for years to come by delivering sweeping penalties in response to a sexual abuse scandal involving former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
The university was fined $60 million and its football team was banned from postseason play for four years, over which time it will also forfeit 80 scholarships. Players will be allowed to transfer to any other school without having to sit out a year of eligibility, which could result in player defections that further damage the program.
Additionally, all Penn State sports face probation for five years, and the football team's wins from 1998 through 2011 have been vacated.
Joe Paterno, who was the winningest coach in major college history, was the head coach for 111 of those 112 victories, meaning his victory total is reduced from 409 to 298, now 12th all time.
The penalties were among the harshest in NCAA history and were significantly more severe than the two-year bowl ban given to USC in 2010.
"No price the NCAA can levy will repair the grievous damage inflicted by Jerry Sandusky on his victims," NCAA President Mark Emmert said during a news conference at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis. "However, we can make clear that the culture, actions and inactions that allowed them to be victimized will not be tolerated in collegiate athletics."
The NCAA said the $60 million is equal to the average annual revenue of the football program and ordered the school to pay the funds into an endowment to prevent child sex abuse and assist victims.
In addition, the Big Ten Conference banned Penn State's football team from the conference title game for four years and said the school would not receive any conference bowl revenue — totaling about $13 million — during that span. The conference said that money would be donated to a fund for the protection of children.
Acting with uncharacteristic swiftness, the NCAA issued the harsh penalties after Emmert was given special approval from the Division I board of directors and the NCAA executive committee.
Emmert and the NCAA bypassed the tedious and often years-long infractions process, forgoing a formal NCAA investigation of Penn State in favor of swift action.
"It was a unanimous act," said Ed Ray, chairman of the NCAA's executive committee and president of Oregon State University. "We needed to act."
Instead of conducting a lengthy probe of its own, Emmert said, the NCAA used the Freeh Report, an investigation commissioned by Penn State and conducted by a group led by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, to help decide the penalty.
The Freeh Report concluded that former Penn State President Graham Spanier, Paterno, Athletic Director Tim Curley and Vice President Gary Schultz "failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade." Sandusky was convicted in June of 45 counts relating to sexual abuse of 10 boys over a 15-year period.
When asked if this process opened a "Pandora's Box" for how the NCAA polices programs in the future, Emmert repeatedly stated that the Penn State case stood alone because of what occurred.
"An argument can be made that the egregiousness and the behavior in this case is greater than any other seen in NCAA history," Emmert said.
Penn State President Rodney Erickson signed a consent decree that agreed with the sanctions and forbids the school from appealing them. The university removed a statue of Paterno from outside the football stadium Sunday morning.
"I think legally, Penn State has given up on an opportunity to challenge the NCAA, an opportunity that could've been historic given how the NCAA acted and given that the NCAA bypassed its normal process in this instance," said Michael McCann, director of the Sports Law Institute at Vermont Law School.
The Paterno family, in a statement that decried the NCAA's ruling, also criticized Penn State's leaders, including Erickson, for not seeking a full hearing before the NCAA's infractions committee.
One member of the school's Board of Trustees, former defensive back Adam Taliaferro, posted his objection on his Twitter account: "NCAA says games didn't exist…I got the metal plate in my neck to prove it did…I almost died playing 4 PSU…punishment or healing?!?"
Steve Morgan, who supervised the NCAA's enforcement staff that investigated Southern Methodist University in the mid-1980s, said he felt Penn State's decision to accept the sanctions might represent a need for closure.
"You know now the monster you have to deal with — the one you had to deal with on campus and the one you now have to deal with from the NCAA because of that — and you can begin to move forward," said Morgan, an attorney at Bond, Schoeneck & King, one of the firms that represent schools and athletes in NCAA cases.