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. calcman10

    What NCAA rules were broken? What investigation has been done into this? Why is NO ONE questioning the lapse in law enforcement that allowed this to on?

    July 26, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Allen

      The victories where NOT the just the coaches. This is a double shame on the NCAA and Penn State. Did they ask the players who won those games if this was accepable?

      July 26, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
  2. NotEnough

    Shut down the entire school for 5 year. Everyone transfers. Fire upper level administrators. Start over in the fall of 2016.

    July 26, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. emmertdusky

    Is that you Badger Alvarez, the one who knocked up the cheerleader?

    July 26, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Alvarez

      I wish ! Cheerleaders are HOT !

      July 26, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Danny

      I agree with you, Alvarez. Female college cheerleaders are waaaay awesome. I'll take 3 or 4, please : )

      July 26, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jim

    I think even the brain d ead student athletes at PSU will agree the actions of their current school admins sti nk. By trying to weasel out of their much deserved punishment, they shos how cor rupt they still are.

    July 26, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jim

      note – I had to type in that manner or comment wouldn't post. (I'm not a PSU student, even though my post resembles the incoherent mess written by a PSU kid)

      July 26, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kerry

      Incoherent mess? We have some of the most intelligent, accomplished alumni in the world. Why don't you go back to grade school and learn how to spell "embarassed"

      July 26, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Leann S

    For a refreshing change, we now have extremely harsh and far-reaching penalties for those who do not protect kids from predators. It no longer pays to protect the guilty. Hats off to the NCAA for their clarification on where the line is drawn. Anyone who thinks this is too harsh or unfair to the current team doesn't understand the magnitude of the problem. Every kid counts. Every human being counts. It's about time we got our priorities straight. To the current team, I congratulate them for treating this as an opportunity to turn things around and get on the right track athletically, academically and for humanity. In fact, it's an opportunity for our entire society to realize what's most important. Those who ignore child abuse will face penalties as severe as the predators themselves. Kinda gives me the sense that more kids will be protected, and predators will be stopped in their tracks immediately. Do you agree? If so, then the NCAA did the right thing.

    July 26, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Curious George

    It's great that due process is irrelevant to so many who have their own opinions. The fact the state conducted an undercover investigation for months and only found a few others (Paterno not being one of them) accountable for knowing and not reporting is totally disregarded. I'm sure these are the same people who are swearing up and down their kids are well behaved, don't smoke, swear, do drugs, and everything else under the son that is appalling. Maybe, just maybe, it is possible that a secret could have been kept by Sandusky. I can't help but wonder if anybody has even tried to ask him if JoPa knew?

    July 26, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • calcman10

      Exactly Curious George – where is the due process?? It is now OK to hand out punishments (even in the case of heinous crimes) without an investigation?? Even the Freeh report relies on "reasonable conclusion"

      Serial abusers get away with things for years. Why? Because they are good at covering their tracks. Do people really think he came into the office on Monday mornings and said "hey, guess what I did this weekend?"

      July 26, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  7. DatBigFitz

    Plenty of players and students, both present and future, will be hurt by this punishment. They would have done the right thing had THEY been given the chance to stop someone like Sandusky. But I agree with this punishment 100%, because it will send the message to all parties involved not only at Penn but to other schools, sponsors, coaches, etc: It's Just a Game, and should never be allowed any more importance than that.

    July 26, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jim

      And just how does the punishment hurt students? Those on the football team can transfer to a better school. Those at PSU for academic reasons can continue on with their studies, unaffected. If they are a little embarised, so what.

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

      Yeah, i'm not sure how this ruling hurts students or the athletes. The athletes are given the green light to transfer anywhere they want without penalty, a rare option. The younger athletes should do just that a go to a full ride scholarship at another school. The students will see no change at all, one less statue, same football season just with no post-season. In fact the students would have gotten the same degree from the same school if the death penalty had been put in place. Some would argue that it might even improve the performance of the students to remove the largest distraction. How does this ruling impact the students at all? I'd say that the molestations and the negative stigma will have a larger impact than the ruling.

      July 26, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
  8. john

    And SMU? How old are you?

    July 26, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. about JoePa

    JoePa paid for his own sins AND his own crimes with his own life. (He died for his sins, NOT Jesus)
    Why do you feel the need to kick a dead old dog?
    So that you can look at HIS mirror instead of at your own.

    July 26, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • David

      JoePa died of lung cancer, and Jesus has nada to do with this.

      July 26, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      No one is 'kicking' Joe, just discussing how easy it is to be revered and respected and practically worshiped for a lifetime of great service and integrity and then have it all come crashing down for one significant lapse of judgment. It should be used as a learning toll for years to come that respect and honor and integrity is not a question of doing more good than bad. It shows that you can be a great man that did hundreds or thousands of good deeds and one significant error can bring it all down. I am almost glad that Joe died before seeing the results to his school of the decision he made to ignore a child molester.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
  10. john

    School should have received the death penalty because that would have been better for everyone involved. A fresh start. Remember SMU? It got the death penalty for fundraising violations and coverup.

    July 26, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. trex

    ..and the NCAA just found out that an assitant coach from Texas in 1971 smoked pot...........TEXAS NOW IS SUSPENED FROM ANY FOOTBALL FOR 150 YEARS, faces a $15 quadrillion dollar fine, and must shoot every other student........

    July 26, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. about JoePa

    Just as nazi catholics knew fellow christians who resisted Hitler rather than chooseing to follow him were being abused at concentration camps, Penn State's gay community knew full-well of Jerry Sandusky's bi-se xual affairs going back 20 years, and also of his statutory raypes of young men you call "boys".
    What decent nazi german citizen or gay community student would want the word to get-out about the abuse? It would only make the entire school look bad...so kept it a secret and never called the police.

    July 26, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Cosmo

      Godwin's Law violation...FAIL

      July 26, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jalen

    The difference being is that was only the coach involved with that, he did those things without the administration's knowledge. At PSU, the Administration was up to their ears in it.

    July 26, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. about JoePa

    OF COURSE there were some truly ignorant German citizens and Penn State students who were so unawares so as not to know. But by and large...
    "Everyone knew about the camps."-oscar Schindler

    July 26, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Benjamin Andrew Carroll

    This changes everything. I was so impressed by Rodney Erickson's statements following the handing down of sanctions on Monday. But now I know that his decision not to fight the NCAA's penalties, which many have noted may not even be valid and may not have stood up to even the slightest legal scrutiny, wasn't voluntary. He had a gun to his head. This is such pathetic garbage. A horrible thing happened, and once again, fat, bloviating, self-righteous men have indulged themselves in a process that can only be construed as "just" by the people who participated in them.

    July 26, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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