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. On Topic

    "Everyone knew about the [concentration] camps."-Oscar Schindler, the real man behind "Schidlers List" movie.
    He was refering to the fact that for years prior to WWII, German citizens couldn't care less about ghetto dwelling jews disappearing and ending-up at Bayer AGs corporate concentration camp. (just as when one of our ghetto dwellers disappears, hardly anyone even notices or cares) And that during the war, virtually EVERY German citizen was fully aware of the death camps, but were all too happy to pop another nazi pharmaceutical pill and do NOTHING...EVEN AS MANY OF THEIR FELLOW CHRISTIANS WERE IN THOSE CAMPS.
    Penn State knew. And approved. And for the very same reasons as nazi catholics. Too dumbed-down to care..

    July 26, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      You're right that PSU knew, but I think the reason they did nothing is very clear: $$$

      July 26, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Brad

    Very lucky for Penn State that it was not a Physics Professor who committed the crimes. What a shame it would have been to have to shut down the Physics Department for four years. How ridiculous is it to punish the football program for the acts of an employee that had nothing to do with the football!! Crazy.

    July 26, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      Sounds like you support pedophiles!

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

      Really? I was under the impression that the HEAD COACH was an employee that had something to do with football. Not to mention the athletic director.

      July 26, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • angela

      What Sandusky did was horrible beyond belief, very sorry for young people involved. All being said had there been a 4 year ban on football all together it would have devestated many mom and pop businesses who are in the State College area. So many people are suffering that were not directly involved and then Mr. Sandusky gets his pension.

      July 26, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eric

      Brad, don't be so ignorant of the facts. The reason why the football program was punished (even though it had nothing to do with football) was because covering up the allegations allowed the football program to continue as normal and flourish. If they would of brought the issue out into the open at the onset, then it could of temporarily hurt them even though it was the right thing to do. Instead PSU (including the football program) covered it up, allowing their football program to continue on for 10+ years as normal. I don't understand why so many people (mostly PSU fans/alumns) have blinders on and can't see this fact.

      July 26, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • sam stone

      He was a football coach. How does this have nothing to do with football?

      July 26, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Wow, stupidity is rampant on these threads. If you cannot see the difference between what happened and your analogy someone should take your computer away.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Josh

    They should've just given them the 4-year death sentence! They shouldnt have had the choice. Included in the current sanctions should have been a ban on all PSU football games being televised either locally or nationally.

    July 26, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alvarez

      They deserved the 4 year ban at the very minimum. It should have been a 10 year ban.

      July 26, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Zebbede

      Josh, with your reasoning, if you watched Penn State on TV, then you must be a pedophile, too.

      July 26, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • angela

      The people directly involved don't seem to be getting punished much. It's the players, local business people and students that are feeling the rath. They had nothing to do with it.

      July 26, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • emmertdusky

      Think of what that would have done to all those other teams pocketbooks and TV revenues and sponsorships. Why the lil 'ol NCAA couldn't have that now, could they? It would have been way too close to killing their cash cow AND the economics just might have invited some government scrutiny.

      July 26, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ann

      Right punish the alumni and students for the actions of their administration. All this has turned into now is witchhunting by people who have either hated Penn State from the get go because of the general air of arrogance of that school or emotional, reactionary calls for heads to roll. I personally never could stand Penn State but at least I can put in perspective the jurisdictional overreach of the NCAA. Should they have been fined? Absolutely! But to change FACT (ie erase wins) is just ridiculous...the NCAA is not God as much as they would like to act the part.

      July 26, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Angela – I disagree to a point because these people are the one's that put Paterno and the football team on a pedestal, practically worshiping him and that enabled the cover up to exist. Was there intent to allow the cover up of child abuse? No, but the culture they helped create enabled it to happen so I do not agree that they have no culpability. Absolute power corrupts absolutely and they gave Paterno absolute power.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jason


    July 26, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Whome

    AURORA, Colo. – "James Holmes, the accused gunman in last Friday's midnight movie massacre in Colorado, mailed a notebook "full of details about how he was going to kill people" to a University of Colorado psychiatrist before the attack, and the parcel may have sat unopened in a mailroom for up to a week before its discovery Monday", Come on NCAA ban CU football.

    July 26, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      He was a neuroscience grad student...

      July 26, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • RUCrazy?

      Seriously? You must have a nail in your brain to think that not opening mail for a week equates to the guilt of knowingly sheltering and protecting a pedophile!

      July 26, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      haha awesome comment

      July 26, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Dirk Dank

    With all that happened and for so long the school should be ashamed they didn’t learn and act upon it sooner. This is sweet for a Democratic state and a school that obviously lived with a democrat mind set also.

    July 26, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
  7. WhackyWaco

    They should be given the death penalty.

    July 26, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jason

    I see nothing wrong in replacing PSU grads with people with better morals. Maybe we should look closer at how many times that PSU Alumn gets back from lunch late. Just saying.

    July 26, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
  9. RalphS

    I agree with you Josh. just proves that when it comes down to money, even a corrupt criminal program gets a pass. Very sad.

    July 26, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
  10. TiredODaCrap

    Help me out with this....Why would the board have said anything??
    Even if the president did not have the authority to go around the board, and even if the death penalty for the program had not been on the table, do they not realize how much worse the firestorm and public outcry would have been if they had voted to publicly dispute the NCAA's penalties??? Could you imagine what would have happened if they had said that they did not agree with, or accept, the punishment??
    Unlike other areas about this case, this is one part that they should have kept under wraps!

    July 26, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
  11. R

    What would happen if Penn State just said f' it and the football team kept practicing and playing any school that was willing? I guess I don't really understand the whole football operation but who can tell a team that they can't play? All you need is a ball and some players. I bet the fans would still show up.

    July 26, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Belinda

    The more that come out, the worse Penn State looks. What a truly horrible group of uncaring unfeeling monsters. The actions of the current administrators show they still only care about their football program.

    July 26, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
  13. ObamaJoe

    it seems not fair to these players,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, ???????????

    A control system,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    where is the freedom of play ??????????

    July 26, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jim Chapman

    Simple question for all those death penalty supporters?

    Which of the people invovled is hurt or punished if the NCAA gives PSU the death penalty? Name the person and how they are impacted.

    If you can, I will be glad to counter your arguement with a bunch of people who had nothing to do with the scandal that would be hurt by PSU being penalized with the death penalty.

    July 26, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
  15. 0704American

    Shut down Pennetration State University (PSU) PERIOD. Turn the campus into a facility to help abused women and children.

    July 26, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
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