INDIANAPOLIS -- For "reckless and callous disregard of children," the NCAA struck Penn State with severe penalties today, including a $60 million fine and a four-year postseason ban. The NCAA also stripped the football program of all its victories from 1998 to 2011, association president Mark Emmert announced this morning.
In vacating those 111 victories, former coach Joe Paterno, who died in January, lost his claim to the all-time NCAA wins record.
The goal of the "unprecedented actions," Mr. Emmert said, was to inspire a cultural change at the university that embraced "hero worship and winning at all costs."
Area residents react to Penn State penalties
Area residents react to the Penn State penalties levied against the school by the NCAA. (Video by Nate Guidry; 7/23/2012)
The punishment was announced one month and one day after a Centre County jury found former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky guilty of 45 counts related to child sexual assault, and more than eight months after a grand jury indicted him.
All returning and incoming Penn State football players can transfer and begin play at another school immediately, Mr. Emmert said. Additionally, any Penn State football players who wishes to stay at the university can retain their scholarships, even if they choose to no longer play football.
Ed Ray, president of Oregon State University and chair of the NCAA executive committee, said the "historically unprecedented actions" the NCAA took "are warranted by the conspiracy of silence."
Mr. Ray said the NCAA not only had the right to punish Penn State, it had the responsibility to do so.
The penalty matches the longest bowl ban for a Division I-A football program, which also happened to North Carolina State, beginning in 1956, and Indiana University, beginning in 1960.
Penn State avoided the "death penalty," which would have banned the football program from any competition for at least one season.
But it is likely the punishment that Penn State faces -- because of its length and severity -- will have a more crippling effect on the program than the death penalty would have.
In handing out the unprecedented penalty, the NCAA used an unparalleled process to arrive at its decision.
In all other cases, NCAA enforcement staff investigates possible infractions and serves schools with a notice of allegations. After a hearing, the NCAA committee on infractions doles out punishment, if any.
But in this case, the NCAA relied on an investigation conducted by former FBI director Louis Freeh and commissioned by the Penn State board of trustees to hand out its punishment. Additionally, it was Mr. Emmert who assessed the penalties -- under the authority of the NCAA board of directors -- and not the committee on infractions.
Mr. Emmert said the NCAA believed this was not a traditional enforcement case.
The NCAA alerted Penn State it would investigate the child abuse charges in a letter to Penn State President Rodney Erickson in November, two weeks after charges against Mr. Sandusky were filed.
In the letter, Mr. Emmert informed Mr. Erickson the NCAA was trying to determine if Penn State lacked institutional control in failing to report the crimes to law enforcement officials.
Mr. Emmert cited three bylaws the university might have violated, including Bylaw 19.01.2, which identifies athletic administrators and coaches as "teachers of young people" who should "do more than avoid improper conduct or questionable acts. Their own moral values must be so certain and positive that those younger and more pliable will be influenced by a fine example."
"Those who exhibit this behavior are meeting the ethical expectations of the NCAA membership," Mr. Emmert wrote in the letter. "Those who do not, fail us all."
But from the outset, a traditional NCAA investigation would have been problematic. The association lacks subpoena power and relies on cooperation from employees of its members in its investigations.
But Joe Paterno died in January; Mr. Sandusky is awaiting sentencing after being convicted; Graham Spanier and Gary Schultz resigned in November, and Tim Curley has been on administrative leave since November. With pending legal issues, there was little incentive to cooperate in an investigation.
Michael Sanserino: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1722 or on Twitter @msanserino. First Published July 23, 2012 1:30 PM