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. lewtwo

    Damned shame that the NCAA buckled under the pressure from PSU.

    July 27, 2012 at 12:02 am | Report abuse |
  2. Hawkeye321

    Penn State recently established a $300 million dollar fund to clone a genetically superior race of Ultra-Paternos, using tissue samples collected from the late coach's potato-sized nose.

    "This new breed of JoPa supermen will not only help return PSU to Big 10 prominence," stated a scientist involved with the project, "but is 67% less likely than the actual Joe Paterno to wet his pants."

    July 27, 2012 at 3:41 am | Report abuse |
  3. BigBird Johnson

    They should not have agreed. I think it's ridiculous that the NCAA can hurt previous students by revoking their wins. NCAA is just a joke.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:03 am | Report abuse |
  4. Irony

    I think it is very fitting. "Punishment fits the crime" so to speak. It was because of their football program and record that Penn state didn't act on this and ignored/silenced any witnesses, so it is fitting that the football program was limited and their record wins removed.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:15 am | Report abuse |
  5. walt thompson

    The sanctions may seem too harsh to Penn State supporters. But imagine that was your child in the shower with Sandusky and it was covered up–now what is your reaction?

    July 27, 2012 at 9:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Bobington

      I would want Sandusky hung, those who covered it up punished to the most extrame limits, and the football progam untouched, becasue what did the school students and football players do to be punished?

      July 27, 2012 at 9:44 am | Report abuse |
  6. SmellsLikeAce

    Penn St. Pedophiles I wish you would have recieved the death penalty and been kicked out of the B1G. Penn St Pedophiles its got nice ring to it.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:48 am | Report abuse |
  7. Mongo

    Why are they not permanently banned?
    More importantly, why aren't multiple people under arrest and in jail?

    July 27, 2012 at 10:05 am | Report abuse |
  8. 66Biker

    I am not a Penn State supporter, and I don't even like football. But this still strikes me as completely off the charts stupidity. The University is not responsible for the actions of a couple of the faculty members, and more importantly, neither are the students of the University. The penalties should be against the faculty members who either participated in the illegal activity, or those who covered it up. Jerry Sandusky is already in prison where he belongs, but he should be joined by anyone who covered up for his crimes, because they were by legal definition, accessories to those crimes. The sanctions against the University make it more difficult for students to get the education they go to the University for, and do nothing against those that are actually guilty of committing crimes.

    July 27, 2012 at 10:14 am | Report abuse |
  9. SPENT

    Should shut down the entire university.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:11 pm | Report abuse |
  10. SPENT

    Shut the university down...

    July 28, 2012 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
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