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. Jim

    There not going to do anything that would kill the cash cow. Its all about money folks. They didn't do anything but a slap on the wrist to ohio state when they screwed up bad. Hell there players bolted from the team rather than face the music. The ncaa is a joke.

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

    Sandusky must have been a disturbed individual. As a coach, think of all the hot young cheerleaders he could have scored with. I bet girls would really give it up for a college football coach. He could have been rolling in it. What a sad waste.

    July 26, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Big Jim

      Oh man – I never even thought if that. I bet he could of had 3 or 4 coeds dancing around his office anytime, wearing just their little cheerleader skirts or even less. He really turned out to be a loser.

      July 26, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  3. RetiredVet

    It is obvious that Penn State football players are only concerned about their egos and there football team cult, the NCAA brought down the hammer because of CRIMES COMMITTED against innocent children, so the school has to pay for its CRIMES for looking the other way to CHILD ENDANGERMENT. For some "college educated" people, you just don't get it. Get off of your playstations and read the Freeh report,you just might get enlightened and maybe educated about what happened at your Penn State campus/cult.

    July 26, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Karmajun

    It is what it is! Please,lets not be like those Alabama fans who can not seem to get over the Bear.....Bear this Bear that.. Coach is gone along with all the dirty laundry. Lets move on!

    July 26, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Sam

    If anyone did something unethical – they have to lose their jobs.
    If anyone did something criminal – they have to go to prison.

    This fine will be paid not by the "University", but by the students and their parents.
    Why the students, current and future, have to pay higher tuition?

    July 26, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • mnsman

      Because if they do not pay, everything is all well and its like nothing ever happened at all. That's the preferable choice for the university who sought to look away from the truth and embrace their so prized tradition of having a good football team at the cost of children's innocence. This is a preemptive measure, not just a punishment, to show that this act is unacceptable not just for Penn, but also any other NCAA football team and establishes that a price will be paid by those who think football is the only thing that matters.

      July 26, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Oliver

      @Sam, you want to narrowly define the scope of fault to minimize the impact to your precious school and football. That is the exact reason this problem arose in the first place, the culture of tolerance and look the other way. Don't permit a long line of child victims interfere with our good time. Mnsman is correct: The NCAA isn't seeking to merely punish these transgressions. They're seeking a general deterrent to all programs that willful blindness at the altar of football is unacceptable. If you cannot see that, you are part of the problem.

      July 26, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Matt

      60 million is one year of football revenue. PSU has an endowment in excess of 2 billion dollars.

      July 26, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • ddblah

      Students can leave particularly when they feel the school is not a place to receive education.

      July 26, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  6. JimfromBham

    Penn State football has essentially been reduced to a "club squad" level. The sad part is that the current crop of kids and the business people in the community did nothing wrong.

    July 26, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • sam stone

      And the kids can transfer elsewhere with no penalty

      July 26, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
  7. gtt1999

    "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. This sounds like a 5-year old screaming at the top of his lungs for a toy in a toy-store.

    July 26, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Big Jim


    July 26, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Big Jim

    We should focus our attention on the cheerleaders. Especially their zoomers. Let's think of good things.

    July 26, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Andy

    ZOOOOOOMERS ! Everyone loves sweater puppies.

    July 26, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  11. ctbeckyw

    Wait a minute! OTHER NCAA Presidents helped think this up? Perhaps there was a bit of bias here... banning the team from action "forces" their players to seek alternative schools (like going to these other NCAA schools) if wishing to have Bowl or NFL options AND it takes Penn State itself out of the running for Bowls and championships even if these players do not transfer. Getting rid of the 111 wins to tarnish JoePa's ON FIELD record but does little. Firing him from his coaching job and the revelations that he knew about Slimedusky is enough to decimate his OFF field reputation. I still don't agree with all the sanctions as it will hurt all the athletes, non-athletes AND the home town of Penn State who, I am sure, receives enormous revenue from game attendees and students alike.

    July 26, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      You are missing the point. If Penn State has top less cheerleaders this year, everything will be forgiven.

      July 26, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • SDR

      The whole of the NCAA and college football has been corrupted by money. Coaches with multi-million dollar contracts and players cant get a part time job to have a few bucks. Entrance score tampering and a staff of tutors to keep players "eligible" not educated. "Compliance"officers that double as mistresses. and Jerry Sandusky
      Let the NFL start its own farm system, like baseball. Student-athletes go to college and athletes go to farm system. College baseball has been clean and provides a quality product for the school, students and supporters.

      July 26, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bonanza66

      I want me one of those compliance officers too. That sounds awesome.

      July 26, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tony

      Your a pedofile

      July 26, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Michael McClain

    Penn State might as well have taken 4 years of no football program, since they're not going to be having any season worth remembering the next 4 years anyway.

    July 26, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
  13. John

    NCAA cowards. They should have gotten the 4 year ban too. Nobody has any guts anymore. What if it had been one of their sons?

    July 26, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
  14. jorge washinsen

    Power corrupts.Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    July 26, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
  15. rebelair

    How Penn St avoided a TV ban is beyond me. If you want to punish Penn St, don't give them national TV exposure and make them lose the TV revenue. The figures already show that they make 60 million a year on TV alone. To fine them 60 million to Penn St means absolutely nothing.

    July 26, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
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