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. Merrill Smith Jr.

    Too bad the kids who had nothing to do with this mess are the ones that will pay the price for the sins of others. Simply unfair.

    July 26, 2012 at 7:00 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. John

    I am tired of hearing people talk about how the student's and players and community had nothing to do with this and are being unfairly punished. Yes, it is not fair to everyone although I would say many helped build the culture at PSU that allowed Joe absolute power and this is often the price we pay when we do that.

    My main point is that there are many victims of crimes that suffer and have nothing to do with the act. If your father murders someone and goes to jail, you and your family suffer and it can be both emotionally and financially (civil lawsuits for wrongful death).

    We need to quit trying to make the PSU students and football players the victims and remember the real victims, and the pain that a lack of integrity and respect on the part of PSU leadership caused them.

    July 26, 2012 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Gigi

      And if your father works at a school when he murders someone, the whole school should be shut down then, right? That seems to be what you're saying. No, it IS what you're saying.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gigi

      Because of course, the whole school knew your father was going to murder someone, right??? Gedouttahere!

      July 26, 2012 at 7:21 pm | Report abuse |
  3. banasy©

    I would also love to know when Corbett is going to vacate his gubernatorial seat.

    July 26, 2012 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. scott bleyle

    Great,now we can watch lesbians play soccer.(foot ball)

    July 26, 2012 at 7:18 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. William

    The NCAA has no business in this issue. This is an issue for the civil courts. The NCAA is supposed to handle player misconduct, and no players were involved in a crime, or in a cover-up of a crime. Innocent players have be penalized, by the vacating of 12 years worth of games.

    July 26, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bob

      "This is an issue for the civil courts." Uh...Joe Pa is dead and you'll not find the Penn State Football program as a defendant in a civil case.
      The innocent players still got to play a GAME (I wish I could underline that part) and still got their education paid for.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • YouArePennState

      I doubt 'innocent players' will be denied a job somewhere based on their won/loss record.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      The NCAA has authority to deal as they see fit with any misconduct by any program. This includes coaches and administrators, not just players. Their authority is absolute in all matters pertaining to any college's athletics programs.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:28 am | Report abuse |
  6. pbernasc

    blind "leader worshiping" has never brought anything good to anybody ... football at Penn State had reached the level of religion .. and we know that God does not exist. The result is that the leaders ended up being the worst possible youth role models, .. Pedophile and almost worst, a Pedophile deniers.

    Penn needs a change of culture and the best of doing this is to damage for good the football experience of all students at Penn as they have to come away from Penn knowing life is not back to normal ... they were very much part of the problem.
    By the time the sanction are over, not one single student who is now at Penn will still be around
    A new generation of people, .. that is what is needed .. and yes, they will not know who Paterno was, but from the news .. which is what they need to know about him .. a coward pedophile denier.

    July 26, 2012 at 7:31 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Chris

      There will be plenty of students currently attending PSU who will still be there in 4 years. Masters' degrees take 5-6 years. A doctorate takes 8+.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:30 am | Report abuse |
  7. Robert Shaperio

    "This team was not built by one man and it sure as hell ........." that statement would have not been said out loud one year ago.

    July 26, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. BB

    So a $60mil fine passed on to it's students and a few "smoke and mirrors" sanctions with no real teeth?

    That is obscene.

    July 26, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Ed in AZ

    NCAA strong armed the PSU Prez and once again hurt the innocent student athlete. Who does this NCAA President Mark Emmert think he is, judge, jury and executioner to destroy peoples lives that didn't have anything to do with this scandal. Yes punish the school not the student athletes who are innocent past or present. NCAA on another power kick!

    July 26, 2012 at 8:28 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Chris

      No student athletes get hurt by this. They have three options: 1) transfer WITHOUT penalty, 2) retain scholarship without being required to play, 3) retain scholarship and continue to play.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:36 am | Report abuse |
  10. AmeliaaE

    They should have banned them forever. Maybe the lawsuits will bankrupt this perverse crap hole of a college, and put it out of business. Shame on all of those people.

    July 26, 2012 at 8:29 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • banasy©

      Paula D.:
      Thank you for the interesting information!

      July 26, 2012 at 9:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      PaulaD-that's not a very impressive list when compared to the other Big Ten schools. Maybe now PSU can attempt to improve its academics and perhaps attract better students.

      July 27, 2012 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
  11. samchugh

    Penn State should have NEVER been privy to any alternative punishment.

    At this point in this entire tragedy, they should be willing to do whatever it takes–NO ifs, ands, or buts–to do right by all those they did wrong, and rectify this situation.

    Now that they clearly knew and "negotiated" this outcome, this is less of a punishment, and more of a settlement. It invalidates all authenticity in Penn State's supposed regret over this situation; who's to say they didn't just settle for this outcome because "No, anything but our precious football!" Which is exactly the same mentality that got them, and the victims, in this situation.

    What kind of person who is honestly remorseful and willing to make penance negotiates their own punishment?

    Already seems like Penn State has not changed at all.

    July 26, 2012 at 8:51 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Normal

    Paula D.... why doesnt your lovely PSU hell hole, put up a statue of one of the more famous alumni... instead the put up a statue of Paterno.... wow... PSU not as smart as you would like your fellow alumni appear to be... flush the toilet on PSU !

    July 26, 2012 at 9:04 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Chillax

      How do you know they *don't* already have some sort of monument for these achievements?
      Chillax.
      And don't forget to refuse any of those products mentioned, based on your skewed sense of principle, of course.

      July 26, 2012 at 9:42 pm | Report abuse |
  13. rd717

    Investigate Governor Corbett for his role in the Penn State scandal. He was involved in the investigation going back to 1998. Sandusky was a huge donor to Gov. Corbett's campaigns. Corbett gave state money to Mile High's pet project days before the scandal broke. Don't allow the most corrupt governor in America today get away with this.

    July 26, 2012 at 9:09 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • South Westport

      Perhaps he will be investigated. This changes nothing. When the Penn State fans heard about the coverup, they AGREED with it. I'm stunned. Perhaps I should be, I suppose. What next in our debauchery?

      July 26, 2012 at 11:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tod

      I call BS. The students of PS did not agree to a coverup. Stop with your silly guilt by association. They were in shock, but they did NOT participate nor agree to a coverup. Hysteric!

      July 27, 2012 at 1:42 am | Report abuse |
    • ruby

      the people who were involved in this horrible deed, they and anybody else who knew and did nothing tostop it, they all need to have their retirements ,bank accounts, all investments frozen. they went happily about their lives and made alot of monies off of the players during those years.this is what will prevent this from happing again.. not punishing todays players' students,and faculity of the school.. this is like telling the victims if you speak out look at how much harm you will bring to innocent people.. so please lets just punish the guilty and not the innocent..

      July 27, 2012 at 3:38 am | Report abuse |
  14. arkmark

    So another knee jerk punishment not on the past trasngressors but the future students and atheletes . The original sin is a tradgedy this continued persecution of the college is madness.

    July 26, 2012 at 9:41 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. South Westport

    I never understood how you could get University students to throw books into a bonfire, screaming out the name of their Leader. Then, we saw the same rapture making an excuse for unimaginable evil, and now I understand. The penalty is not about football, at all. It's about deprogramming.

    July 26, 2012 at 11:14 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tod

      Yawn. Open your mind a little, bud. Not every bloody student there was a football fanatic. Can't see the forrest for the trees kinda person, huh?

      July 27, 2012 at 1:46 am | Report abuse |
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