July 26th, 2012
10:36 AM ET

Report: Penn State faced 4-year 'death penalty'

Penn State faced a multiyear shutdown of its football program had it not agreed with the sanctions imposed by the NCAA earlier this week, university President Rodney Erickson told ESPN.

The football program at Penn State faced a four-year "death penalty," a complete cessation of football activities, Erickson said, according to the ESPN report, as well as fines well in excess of the $60 million levied.

The four-year death penalty option was confirmed by NCAA President Mark Emmert, who said in a separate interview with ESPN that what the network termed "a core group of NCAA school presidents" had agreed on the unprecedented sanctions.

Once Penn State learned of the NCAA intentions, school officials engaged in five days of secret discussions with the NCAA that resulted in the penalties announced Monday, ESPN reported. Those include the record $60 million fine, a four-year postseason ban, a four-year reduction in football scholarships and five years of probation. Penn State also was forced to vacate its football victories since 1998, including 111 by the late coach Joe Paterno.

Penn State's board of trustees was not involved in those negotiations, and some members had expressed anger at not being allowed a vote on whether to approve the agreement with the NCAA, according to ESPN. But in a statement Wednesday night, the board said based on the alternative, it would abide by the agreement.

"The Board finds the punitive sanctions difficult and the process with the NCAA unfortunate. But as we understand it, the alternatives were worse as confirmed by NCAA President Mark Emmert’s recent statement that Penn State was likely facing a multiyear death sentence. The University and Board resolve to move forward together to recognize the historical excellence in Penn State’s academic and athletic programs. We anticipate and look forward to demonstrating our outstanding performance in complying with the sanctions," the statement said.

If Penn State’s leaders had not taken the actions they did, “I don’t know what the outcome would have been, but I suspect it would have been significantly worse,” Emmert said in an ESPN interview.

Erickson told ESPN that a four-year ban on football could have had a devastating effect beyond football, which is the economic engine of the athletic department.

"I think it is not only best for our football program but best for our entire set of sports and intercollegiate athletes to be able to continue on and have the opportunity to play in that stadium and participate," ESPN quoted Erickson as saying.

The sanctions are part of the continued fallout from the child sex abuse scandal involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted in late June of 45 of the 48 counts he faced involving 10 young victims.

The NCAA action follows an independent investigation led by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, whose report held Paterno and other top Penn State officials responsible for failing to stop the abuse beginning in 1998.

Paterno, who coached at Penn State for 46 years, was fired after Sandusky's arrest in November. He died in January. Graham Spanier, then the school's president, was also let go. Two other former university officials face criminal charges related to their alleged failure to report incidents regarding Sandusky's crimes to authorities.

The NCAA has used the "death penalty" on football only once, shutting down the program at Southern Methodist University in 1987 for violations of NCAA rules. The school also canceled its 1988 season and suffered two decades of losing seasons.

Photos: Notable NCAA scandals

That was not something Penn State officials wanted to endure.

"I want to play football, and I want to play football on television," Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien said in an ESPN interview.

"Both of those things are possible under the sanctions," ESPN quoted Erickson as saying.

A group of Penn State players on Wednesday pledged to stick with the university, calling the sanctions, which allow transfers to other universities without penalty, an "opportunity."

"As a team, we don’t see this as a punishment, this is an opportunity; this is the greatest opportunity a Penn Stater could ever be given," senior running back Michael Zordich said in front of a group of players gathered outside the school's football facility. "We have an obligation to Penn State, and we have the ability to fight for not just a team, not just a program, but an entire university and every man that wore the blue and white on that gridiron before us."

Senior linebacker Michael Mauti said the sanction give the current players "an opportunity to create our own legacy."

"This program was not built by one man, and this program sure as hell is not going to get torn down by one man," Mauti said. "No sanction, no politician is ever going to take away what we got here."

Both players pledged a special effort for the 2012 season.

"We’re going to show up every Saturday and we’re going to raise hell," Mauti said.

Watch the players' statement

More on the Penn State case and sanctions

Penn State alum: 'We are more than this tragedy'

Five experts: What happens to Penn State football?

Do sanctions alter Paterno's legacy?

Story of a football hero recast

Paterno loyalists call NCAA sanctions excessive

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Filed under: Crime • Football • Jerry Sandusky • Joe Paterno • Penn State • Sports
soundoff (239 Responses)
  1. banasy©

    There was enough to indict Sandusky, and why Corbett isn't being held to the same standards as the rest of the PS hierarchy is beyond me...that he is now Governor of Pennsylvania makes it smell even worse.
    His role in this needs to be investigated thoroughly, and not by someone that can be bought off.

    July 26, 2012 at 11:06 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Zebbede

      Agreed!!!!

      July 26, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Leann S

      I agree that Corbett should absolutely be held accountable.

      July 26, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Benjamin Andrew Carroll

      YES! and for good measure, YES again.

      July 26, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Elvis

      Every person who allowed the cover-up was an accessory to fourteen years of crime and abuse. Each one of them is every bit of the child molestor that Sandusky is, equally guilty.

      July 26, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim

      I TOTALLY agree with you!!!

      July 26, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hugo

      Elvis, I must disagree with "everyone." The victims shouldn't be blamed.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bobington

      I would love to know why McCreary is being left out of everything. He witness the abuse first hand, then aided in the 14 year coverup.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:47 am | Report abuse |
    • dabble53

      Unless Sandusky crossed state lines, the criminal aspect is strictly state level. As far as I know, the only ones that MIGHT not be on sale to a govenor would be the feds (as evidenced by all the Illinois govenors in jail.)

      July 26, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Will i am

      Yes I actually think he did cross state lines. I believe that at least one of the boys testified Sandusky took him with him to an away game.

      July 26, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • iamtokumei

      According to the grand jury report, Sandusky took Victim 4 across state lines to the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, Texas.

      July 26, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jay G

      I, too, am surprised the media hasn't focused more on Corbett. He took more than $60k from the Second Mile Foundation. What kind of non-profit organization that is setup for poor kids donates $60k to a governor's campaign?? Sounds dirty to me.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ed

      Not just Corbett, but the State Department of Public Welfare, Children and Youth Services, the Centre County Prosecutor, the Police (both local and college) and anyone else who let Sandusky off in 1998 without being charged. If nothing else, charging him would have focused the light on him. Even if they later had to drop the charges or lostt in court everyone would have known about him. Why is Corbett protecting these people?

      July 26, 2012 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jeff

    The punishment was far too lenient.

    July 26, 2012 at 11:15 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • CherylS

      Amen to that.

      July 26, 2012 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
  3. Elisabeth

    Penn State supporters are little more than the substance found at the bottom of a refuse bin.

    July 26, 2012 at 11:20 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • PEDO BEAR

      Allow me to provide some correction to your statement:

      If you support Penn State, you support child r@pe.

      July 26, 2012 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
  4. Dave W

    Even the current administration is still trying to avoid punishment for their actions. The atmosphere of coverup and corruption still permeates the school. If PSU is really sorry about what happened they wouldn't have tried to weasel put of the original sanctions.

    July 26, 2012 at 11:26 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dave W

      weasel out

      July 26, 2012 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
    • TwM

      They are losing their insurance. They are going to face massive penalties in Civil Suits. They are losing sponsors. They will lose donations. The Students and the State tax payers will be left holding the bag. Good Job protecting the program Paterno...

      July 26, 2012 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
  5. TwM

    Punishment was not nearly as bad as it should have been but it is set. The good Football players need to get over the sentimental factor and start looking elsewhere for a quality football program to play in. The mediocre talent, let them play out the season for the Nittany Lions. No one else really wants them anyway.

    July 26, 2012 at 11:27 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Curtis

      a m e n !

      July 26, 2012 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
    • CherylS

      If football scholarship is the only reason a player chose Penn State, then stay there and play while you get a decent education. If the goal is to make it to the NFL, the players better go somewhere else.

      July 26, 2012 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
  6. Nathan

    The death penalty is not fair to athletes who have trained for years to get to that level, and who chose that university out of countless others. Not to mention that it takes away from the college experience for thousands of students. The innocent should not have to pay for the actions of a select few.

    July 26, 2012 at 11:29 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • TwM

      You are right that is why they are being given a way out. The School needs to be punished for what its Football program sowed. They all knew. The Freeh report is going to make the victims very very rich and the tax payers very very poor.

      July 26, 2012 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Curtis

      They can transfer. There is more than just 1 college in the world, regardless of what the cult like PSU supporters think.

      July 26, 2012 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Charles

      Trained for years? What about studying? Those players are not there for an education, they are there to be visible enough to get drafted.

      July 26, 2012 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
    • wisdom

      @nathan – the innocent have already paid and continue to pay for the rest of their lives for the abuse that Sandusky, under the cover of PSU and PSU's football program, wreaked on them. Innocent kids, remember?

      July 26, 2012 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
  7. CherylS

    If the person who saw Sandusky in the showers with the boy had called the cops, this punishment never would have happened. If Paterno had called the cops as soon as he was told, this punishment never would have happened. Over and over again, people chose the football program over doing the right thing. The blame goes all the way to the top. The determination was made to trade the safety of the kids for the football program. The NCAA should have banned Penn State football all together. The University deserves nothing else.

    July 26, 2012 at 11:36 am | Report abuse | Reply
  8. SilverHair

    Should have been at LEAST 4 years, subject to ongoing review for possible longer period. Penn State footballers on tv showed the real colour of PS – wouldn't hire recent PSrs associated with any sports there.

    July 26, 2012 at 11:40 am | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Nelson Colorado Springs Co

    Yes this hurt the school But it hurts more the football team the worst. If I was on the football team I would be looking for another college.

    July 26, 2012 at 11:43 am | Report abuse | Reply
  10. tempertempertemper

    Penn State was lucky they did not suffer a ten-year football ban and a one billion dollar find for the unparallelled abuse carried out, enabled, and covered up on their campus over ten years.

    July 26, 2012 at 11:59 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • calcman10

      They enabled this for 10 years? The DA failed to prosecute the 1998 allegation so what was the University to do? Assume him guilty? Was there cover-up from the football program following the 2008 incident? The Freeh report says that is a "reasonable conclusion". If it's a reasonable conclusion, couldn't there be reasonable doubt along with that?

      My problem with this is that there has been no due process, no independent investigation, and yet there have been severe punishments handed down.

      July 26, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  11. David

    Any employer who fires an employee for having attended Penn State will be sued. Any Human Resource Manager found systematically throwing out Penn State resumes will be sued. Bet on it.

    July 26, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jay G

      David, graduates of Penn State are not a protected class. They would have no basis for suing.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bobington

      If employees or job applicants were fired or irnogred due to the college they attended it could be considered discrimination, allowing for a lawsuit due to the discrimination.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:53 am | Report abuse |
  12. Ted J

    It sickens me to know the Penn State administration "negotiated" it way out if it's true, much deserved punishment. Everything that comes out about this school is more and more disgusting.

    July 26, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Robert

    I'm not a Penn State alumni. Actually, I'm an alumnus of one of Penn State's rivals and I think the NCAA is very wrong. I have a background in counseling and know about abuse. I also have a good sense of justice.

    In my opinion, the real criminal was perpetrated by Jerry Sandusky, without who none of this could have happened. The four men who covered it up bear some serious culpability as well. And there are many who think that there must have been other people who knew what was going on as well. But I am here to tell you that abusers are incredible con artists and expert at covering up their abuse. Joe Paterno didn't even seem to be aware of it until one of his assistants happened to stumble upon it one night after hours. And if Joe Paterno didn't know even about it until it had been going on for some time (and I guarantee you that it was going on for some time) then it is highly probably that it was well hidden from other people as well.

    My point is that the guilty people have been dealth with, the rest of the Penn State community are also victims of abuse, albeit not direct victims, but victims nonetheless. Finally, the NCAA is distancing themselves from this disgraceful crime by punishing victims. They are in error.

    Here's a case in point. If you have a church (and I'm a church goer), say a Presbyterian church, where the pastor has been found to be in some sort of serious sin such that he is no longer qualified for his office, the presbytery comes in and removes him. That is called church discipline. He is no longer the pastor. (And if there were a crime the state would get involved as well.) And if there were others who were covering up for him, they would deal with that as well. But most always, the congregation is unaware of a pastor's wrong doing. But when it comes out and he's removed in disgrace, it affects everyone. Everyone feels like a victim. Does the Presbytary come in and discipline the congreation as well? In no way!!! Rather, they come in and cofort them.

    Another analogy would be a family where the wife throws the husband out once she's discovered that he's been cheating (or visa versa). Does she discipline her grieving children? Of course not. Rather, she comforts and consoles them for the wounds that will take a life time to heal.

    In conclusion, I think the NCAA handling of this was wrong and that the NCAA has demonstrated incompetence in dealing with such serious matters.

    July 26, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Elvis

      The difference in this case is that those who knew of Sandustky's behavior were highly placed in the University and directed the University corporately to conceal the truth and enable the criminal. And, they did so for fourteen years. Yes, the pulled the University into it, but the University was into it nonetheless. Sanctions or no sanctions, the University is undeniably in disgrace. The sanctions were dead on right, though far too leniant. I doubt the civil suit results will be and that is where I think your debate will have it's true hearing. As it should be.

      July 26, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Vincent

    The four-year death penalty option was confirmed by NCAA President Mark Emmert, who said in a separate interview with ESPN that what the network termed "a core group of NCAA school presidents" had agreed on the unprecedented sanctions.

    Once Penn State learned of the NCAA intentions, school officials engaged in five days of secret discussions with the NCAA that resulted in the penalties announced Monday, ESPN reported.

    ====================================================

    After they learned of the harsher fate, Penn State officials were allowed to engage in 'secret discussions' with the NCAA to reduce their punishment?
    So Penn State was given the option between a 4-yr death penalty and a 4-yr penalty with the minimal fine and some lost scholarships?

    This 'punishment' was sold to the public as what was decided by the NCAA for an unforgivable crime, but apparently it was a negotiated settlement?
    Penn State officials are happy with the lesser punishment, the NCAA gets to tell everyone they forced a tough sanction on to the university, and everyone is now happy? Seems more like Penn State and NCAA both wanted to reduce the impact on their revenues from football and settled on the bare minimum.

    July 26, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Larry

    The NCAA Football madness is not to blame for what happened at Penn State? Major college football programs across the country are not engaged in unethical behavior in recruiting, covering for bad behavior from their athletes, and pocketing huge sums of money raised on the blood and sweat of their athletes. Shut down college football for a couple of years and clean up the entire mess.

    July 26, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ben

      100 percent correct.

      July 26, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      I read a post where it was suggested that the NCAA donate all of the profits it made off of the 14 years of winning games that were v a c a t e d by their decree...I think that would be fitting, if the NCAA doesn't want to look hypocritical.

      July 26, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
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