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. Dan

    Does this college have anything going for it besides a football team? It doesn't seem like it.

    July 26, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  2. joe t

    As usual, the Board and Erickson crumbled (under puppet master Tom Corbett). They should have called the NCAA's bluff, because as each day passes more and more of the Freeh report is exposed. A 4 year shut down would have killed the Big Ten financially, the PSU heirarchy was too stupid to recognize that. It was all about money, not the school, certainly not the victims, just the money for the Big Ten. If they shut the program down, Erickson and the board would have be been exposed for the bumbling fools they are and Tom Corbett would have an awful lot of questions to answer for his role in this fiasco. After all, he chose to investigate his political rival, DeWeese, rather than Jerry Sandusky. Now, they all get to quietly fade into the sunset and leave their mess for someone else.

    July 26, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
  3. What are you thinking?

    Sorry, but punishing the college and those that attend isn't right, those responsible, and all responsible should have been punished.
    Punishing the college and students themselves, is like punishing a taxi driver that dropped of someone that committed a crime later in the day, and everyone from that point out had to sit on the floor of the taxi because a previous rider committed a crime.
    For the record, I have nothing to do with Pen State, don’t watch sports either, but do understand when there is an in justice to those who had nothing to do with it!
    Why not just mark everyone that ever went to Penn State, or put a tattoo on their heads, so everyone knows they attended a college that had a pervert coach! How stupid!

    July 26, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
  4. fay ruujin

    zzz when is the tailgate party and what beer will be there? that will continue and the this "fine" etc. is just a bump in the road for Penn and NOTHING at all for all the rest of the football is god huge football colleges!

    July 26, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
  5. lou50

    well after the "victims" get thru suing the school will just close down. To many people went wink wink and turned their heads. Typical PA lack of involvement.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • VinceRN

      you put victims in quotes? You seriously believe that a ten year old that gets sodomized is not a victim?

      July 26, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      Just like the Catholic church.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • GP

      Typical PA lack of involvement....hmmm it's apparently not enough for the trolls now to just blame a University of 50+ thousand for the actions of a few men...no now let's blame everyone in the what fifth most populous state in the country what a joke.

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

    Notice that the NCAA fined Penn State 60 mill. That is to offset the loss of revenues the school would have paid to the NCAA over 4 years. Nobody can call the NCAA stupid.

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

      I agree, the NCAA is hardly as heroic as they are trying to sound. I believe that a major reason for the harsh sanctions is the NCAA fear that this scandal will tarnish their new four team multi billion dollar playoff scheduled to start in 2014. The last thing the NCAA wants is Penn State contending for one of those four spots so they made it impossible for that to happen.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Reflecto

      Trur, but you can call them crass, venal, greedy, and hypocritical. You can also called them blackmailers, because when you threaten to do something really bad to someone unless they pay you a lot of money, that is called blackmail.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      The $60M is not going to the NCAA, so not sure what your point is.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • CP

      The $60M goes to charities that work to prevent abuse and to support abuse victims.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      I would be equally impressed if the NCAA donated the profits they made over the 14 years of vacated wins to the same charity, since it is the money-making aspect of NCAA football that helped facilitate this cover-up in the first place.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:10 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jay G

    Should've given them a 5+ year death penalty. The fans, alums and students are still blind to the culture they contribute to that allowed this to happen.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Barry from Wisconsin

      And how would you know? How many Penn State grads do you talk with?

      July 26, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Barry from Wisconsin

    A four year ban which could have been appealed until the cows come home. As a Penn State grad, I have no problem with penalizing the university for what, at a minimum, looks like a cover up. I do have a problem with destroying a program (for years, at least) that has a bunch of players who had ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with Sandusky or the people who looked the other way.

    The NCAA is apparently full of itself and wanted to lash out and then pompously pat themselves on the back for sending a message.

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

      Nah. NCAA knows there are lots more "problems" out there across the universities they manage, and they are hoping this buys them some credibility when the rest of the facade begins to crumble.

      Penn State could be bold and offer to devote vast money and effort founding comprehensive, fundamental research into child abuse, how to recognize it, and how to prevent it. Take the initiative rather than moaning over the lose of the Penn State sports brand...

      July 26, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Richard Jones

    When the truth finally comes out you will find out that ol' Coach Joe was in thai a whole lot more than what we know now !! It's just Pennslyvania !

    July 26, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
  10. bob ho

    this is news, but the Occupy Wall St guy that yesterday plead guilty to trying to blow up that bridge in Cleveland and agreeing to testify against the other five? nope

    July 26, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Saku

    At least Penn State put a stop to to this evil garbage. The Roman Catholic church never did. Insane. So many lives destroyed. Honestly, how do grown men turn their backs on this, seeing a young boy's innocence being ripped from their souls? Please say your prayers by yourself in your own bedroom. Don't do that in front of other men.

    July 26, 2012 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jennifer

    Instead of protecting the legacy of a man who did so much for Penn State, and who is no longer alive to defend himself, they decide to go with the option that losses the school less money. From what I've read about the whole ordeal, Joe Pa told school officials about what he HEARD happened. It was up to the officials and police to investigate. If Joe Pa had SEEN something actually happen, that would be something very different, he could have testified against the monster in a court of law. Joe Pa was a great man who did great things for Penn State and now those things are being taken away from him because he choose not to make accusations against someone based on hearsay. The university should have choosen the 4 year death penalty, rather than allowing the NCAA to strip Joe Pa of those wins. In the words of my brother, "MY COACH WILL ALWAYS HAVE 409 WINS."

    July 26, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
  13. BSH

    If there had been a four year ban, PSU would have sued the NCAA for grossly overstepping their authority – and won. NCAA would have lost power.

    July 26, 2012 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
  14. bookgirl

    The NCAA punishment was a joke. $60M is nothing for a university with the deep pockets of Penn State. Vacating wins has no consequence–so the books will say they really lost when they won, so what? Maybe if PS had to pay back the money made from games back to the 90s, that would have had a consequence. And the players that go to PS generally go there because of loyalty to PS. They will not go elsewhere. Penn State is not known for recruiting great players anyway. And, why were they not forced to fire the coaches that were in the program during these years–there are a couple left. Again, no consequence. In the end, PS WILL pay from lawsuits, which I hope they lose in droves. The NCAA gave punishments that had no real tangible effects, except maybe the loss of scholarships. But I doubt even that..

    July 26, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Merrill Smith Jr.

    Consider the fact that Mitt Romney ran for president in 2008, shouldn't he be willing to release his 2008 and 2007 tax return during that time he ran for president too. Interesting!

    July 26, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
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