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. akhmedalkhlij

    quit yer moralizing and play football

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

      And jiggle around you cheerleaders !

      July 26, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
  2. akhmedalkhlij

    start corn holing the coeds to balance things out

    July 26, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
  3. DAVE

    the school never put football before education. The actions to cover this up were done by few at the top. PSU football was never held higher than education. This is a fact coming from an alum. I am ashamed at what my school has done but people comment here without knowing any of psu culture. Sandusky was a monster not Joe pa. Joe Pa acted on the only time he was notified of something who is he to determne what was hesey or fact he notified upper faculty who was responsible for sandusky (joe pa only disciplined student football players not staff). The police were also alerted originally but that has been getting left out also.

    July 26, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Bonanza66

    It really is going to make the football season more fun this year. It gives us a team to boo and root against. I usually just hope UGA looses. Now we have another team to boo : ) it is gonna be fun ! : )

    July 26, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Bonanza66

    Booooo Penn State. Booooo UGA. Lions and Bulldogs smell ! Gooooo Auburn ! It is going to be a fun season ! : ) : )

    July 26, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Michelle

    So the lesson learned here is that money talks and rules everything. You did something unethical and the price that is paid is 60 million which is chump change to Penn State. So, pretty much they bought themselves out of a mess.

    July 26, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lawrence

      Not really Michelle. The lawsuits are coming and they will be steep. They will be paying out a lot more.

      July 26, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • tracimc

      agreed... that foot ball program should be boarded up! shame! 60 million dollar fine, the football program make that in one year...

      July 26, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cynluna

      Don't forget the revenue from the Big Ten too.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
  7. enaid03

    The NCAA has set a precedent for dealing with criminal issues when it applies to student athletes. Where are the sanctions for the University of Virginia's men's lacrosse team? UVA had prior knowledge of the disposition of George Huguely. He's also sitting in jail for destroying a life, and the lives around his victim. Why are they still playing lacrosse?

    July 26, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jeff

    Regardless of what happens, I bet Penn State games have the highest viewing audience this year than they ever have. Think of all the publicity they are getting. Any publicity is good publicity. I know me and my family will tune in just to see what they are up to. I bet it will be the best season ever !

    July 26, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lawrence

      You might be right about that.

      July 26, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Forrest

    Hear that Penn State lackeys? You got of easy. Suck it up and move on.

    July 26, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Benny

      Yeah. They are just a bunch of cry babies and sissies. Did you know they haven't won a game in 14 years? Check the updated record books. They are pan sies.

      July 26, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wwjd122

      Run Forrest run

      July 26, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jim

    I suggest that EVERY other school in the US with a football or non-academic program, take a LONG look at your program AND your people. This thing is happening in other schools as we speak... it WILL come to light, eventually... make the necessary changes and make sure YOUR program does not get the AX!!! Mark my words, folks... it IS happening... and NO, it WON'T be gotten away with....

    July 26, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • AU 2002

      Not us ! At Auburn we emphasize education first, then athletics. We are the BEST ! Not like those dirty losers that play for Alabama or UGA. I heard most of those types are Penn State supporters.

      July 26, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Benny

    They should make the Penn State players paint cute little pink flowers on their helmets to show how sweet they are.

    July 26, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Tony

    Sad when a college bases its reputation on a football program. No player will ever want to associated with ped state.

    July 26, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
  13. sickofitall

    Just another crooked deal between two sets of crooks.

    July 26, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Skipper

    Penn State shouldn't have had any say in the penalties. They deserved the NCAA death penalty.

    July 26, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
  15. AU 2002

    I heard many of the UGA players might transfer to Penn State so they can be among their own kind.

    July 26, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kent

      Same thing I heard on the news today. UGA athletes going to PSU. Didn't the UGA players say they wanted to be in a perv friendly atmosphere?

      July 26, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Demarcus

      L O L. I always wondered about those UGA players. Always patting each other on the but.

      July 26, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse |
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