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. Cosmo

    So if Stewart Mandel is correct (a College Football writer for SI), a four year death penalty isn't even possible – their rules limit to a two year penalty. So is it perfectly alright for the NCAA to disregard their own rules? Have we devolved to a society where we just "do things" to placate the mob, or are we bound by some concept of due process and abiding by rules and regulations? Two wrongs don't make a right...

    July 26, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
  2. about JoePa

    JoePa is asleep in death, or as most believe but are afraid to say, "burning in hell". Right @banasy?

    July 26, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
  3. about JoePa

    Isn't it funny how people who believe in a god complete with a burning hell still say "rest in peace", when what they really mean is burn in hell?

    July 26, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Joe Paterno

    Why is there a link below these comments to "report abuse"? Why would someone want to report abuse?

    July 26, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jay

      Oh my god... now THAT was funny. Well done, sir.

      July 26, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
  5. KMK

    Can we disband the Justice Department and the whole judiciary system? It appears the NCAA is boundless in it's jurisdictional capacity. These were crimes. Last time I checked the NCAA has no jurisdiction. They need to focus on what they do have jurisdiction over.

    July 26, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim

      The NCAA can not enforce the sanctions. All they can do is say "if you wish to be part of our group, then you must do this. If not, you are out of the group". The NCAA is like a club. No they aren't law enforcement, but they can say if you mess up and still want to be part of the group, you must pay this or that amount of money. As a club or organization they have every right to do this.

      July 26, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • andres

      So you disagree with them punishing penn state or you don't think that they have the right to punish penn state. If the latter they most certainly do, they run the US athletic organization and have power to enforce just about anything they choose to do. They have a commercial contract with each and every school, they can enforce the contract, pure and simple.

      As for the US judcial system, it'll take its pound of flesh as well.

      July 26, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
  6. about JoePa

    JOEpa must be rolling in his grave as you knumbskulls are more focused on Penn States football program than he was! And this, AFTER it has been learned that many @Penn State knew of sandusky's bis exual affairs even with young men under 18! Not just Mrs. Sandusky who has yet to be focused on.

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

      Please prove that. I do not believe you. You yourself cannot believe what you're saying.

      July 26, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jackie

    Penn State is an embarrassment to the whole nation. They should have permanently closed the entire school!

    July 26, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • MS

      That is just a ridiculous comment.

      July 26, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • irbsod

      And buried it in 10 feet of earth to stop the stench that will emanate from its hallowed ground for 100 years.

      July 26, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jay G

    Should've given 'em the 4 year death penalty. Maybe that would given the entire Penn State campus and alumni base the perspective it lacks. The only thing you hear them whining about these days is that their precious football team has been unfairly punished and that it's unfair to punish the students and players for the actions of "a few". What they can't seem to grasp is it's the entire community there that is to blame.

    July 26, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Portland tony

      Your misrepresention of the truth simply amazes me. How can you indict an entire community over the malfeasance of a few. Surely, you do not live in or know of the realities of our current society!

      July 26, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
  9. LB

    NCAA didn't shut the program down because they know what a cash cow that PSU football is. So they're just as corrupt and hypocritical as Penn State.

    July 26, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
  10. yup!

    Pretty harsh ... the people who deserve the most condemnation are Sandusky, Paterno, Curley, Schultz, and Spanier.
    I don't disagree with what the NCAA does, but I'm sure the other University presidents want to put Penn State football down.

    July 26, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  11. conrad

    If you can get your head unwound from the whole football obsession, you'll recall this is about donzens of grown men in positions of power permitting the abuse of innocent children.

    If you ask me Penn State is getting off easy.

    Sanctions, fines, imprisonment, closing down the program are all necessary to send a very strong message that what happened there is not acceptable and cannot be allowed to happen again. Wake up and realize that the lives of vulnerable young people are more important that making bank on football.

    Why didn't the football team pledge to restore the reputation of a tarnished school/program by being examples of decency – all they talk about is playing football on TV and honoring the Penn State Football tradition. Such a sadly ego driven society we are ...

    July 26, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Elvis

    The University put the health and well being of more boys that we will ever know about behind the interests of its' football program. The program should be ended, but it won't be for the same reason.... football above all else. Nonetheless, as long as there is football at the University of PA, there will also be the dark cloud of disgrace that the University spent fourteen years creating. The shame will never be gone.

    July 26, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
  13. OPEN400

    This is the NCAA's idea of restoring integrity to college sports? Now players that have played at Penn State committed to the program can act like NFL free agents and talk to other colleges. Teams can leave conferences for another conference for more money. LSU is trying to get an eighth grader to commit to LSU. Any Manny, Moe or Jack that was associated with the Sandusky’s Two Mile organization will get a greedy lawyer and with unsubstantiated evidence go after Penn State for their "lottery winning." The Freeh report has already retracted two statements made in their report. The Freeh report is to college athletics what the Warren Commission report was to the Kennedy assassination – hastily put together, sloppily researched and told the public what they wanted to hear – what the public was willing to believe.
    The NCAA is a big joke. It has and always will be a free minor league for the NFL and the NBA.

    July 26, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Karmajun

      What a cry baby!!! WaWaWa

      July 26, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Danny

    Instead of having lame football games that no one cares about, why don't they just have the cheerleaders on the center of the field dancing around? I think most of us guys would find it far more enjoyable.

    July 26, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
  15. LOL@Penn State GO BUCKEYES!

    Should have been banned for OVER 9000 YEARS!

    July 26, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
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