NCAA penalties cut Penn State football program to its core
Susan DelPonte, center, of State College, a Penn State employee and student advocacy specialist, reacts Monday in the Hetzel Union Building on the Penn State campus as the NCAA sanctions against the Nittany Lions are televised.
Andrew Hanselman, left, of Bucks County and Maddy Pryor, a senior from Neptune, N.J., react Monday as they listen to a television in the HUB on the Penn State University main campus.
Laura Lovins, a Penn State sophomore from State College, center, is among a group listening to the television in the school's HUB in University Park as the NCAA sanctions against the football program are announced on Monday.
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Upset with what it viewed as an athletic culture "gone awry" that embraced "hero worship and winning at all costs," the NCAA on Monday slammed Penn State University with severe penalties for its role in a child sex abuse scandal.
The NCAA fined Penn State $60 million, banned the football team from postseason play for four years and stripped the program of all its victories from 1998 to 2011 in addition to other penalties announced by NCAA president Mark Emmert.
"This case involves tragic and tragically unnecessary circumstances," Mr. Emmert said. "One of the grave dangers stemming from our love of sports is that the sports themselves can become too big to fail, indeed, too big to even challenge."
In vacating those 111 victories, former coach Joe Paterno, who died in January, lost his claim to the all-time NCAA major college wins record.
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.
Additionally, the Big Ten Conference announced Monday it has publicly censured the university and will strip it of its annual bowl revenue for four years -- totaling $13 million. That money will be donated to funds that protect children.
Penn State president Rodney Erickson said the university accepted the NCAA's punishment, and football coach Bill O'Brien said he remained committed to the university. His ability to build a successful program, however, took a devastating hit.
Mr. Paterno's family released a statement that said the NCAA sanctions "defame the legacy and contributions of a great coach and educator without any input from our family or those who knew him best."
Though Penn State officials accepted the sanctions and signed a consent decree that they will comply with the penalties, these steps "could have and would have been taken without Penn State's cooperation," said Donald Remy, NCAA general counsel and vice president of legal affairs.
Ed Ray, president of Oregon State University and chairman of the NCAA executive committee that voted to give Mr. Emmert the ability to levy the sanctions, said the "historically unprecedented actions" the NCAA took "were warranted by the conspiracy of silence."
"Not only does the NCAA have the authority to act in this case," Mr. Ray said, "we also have the responsibility to say that such egregious behavior is not only against our bylaws and Constitution but also against our values system and basic human decency."
These penalties fall outside the scope of traditional NCAA infractions cases because the executive committee -- composed of university presidents and chancellors who oversee the NCAA -- voted to act.
Mr. Ray said he "heard not a single voice" that believed the executive committee should not act against Penn State.
"It's important to separate this from a traditional enforcement case," Mr. Emmert said. "That's not what this was. This was and is action by the executive committee, exercising their authority."
There was no NCAA investigation or hearing; instead, the NCAA used the information from an investigation conducted by former FBI director Louis Freeh and commissioned by the Penn State board of trustees to hand out its punishment.
The NCAA believes the penalties will have a more destructive effect than the "death penalty," which would have shut down the program for at least one season. Only one Division I-A football program, Southern Methodist University in 1987, has received such a penalty.
It took SMU 10 years to compile another winning season. It could take Penn State even more, because of the breadth of its penalties. They include:
• The $60 million fine, which the NCAA said equals Penn State's annual football revenue. It will establish an endowment for programs that prevent or help victims of child sexual abuse. The fine cannot come at the expense of Penn State's other athletic programs and it cannot take away from scholarship agreements, Mr. Emmert said. An independent third party will determine which organizations can benefit from the endowment, Mr. Remy said. Penn State has five years to pay the fine and must pay at least $12 million annually.
David La Torre, a spokesman for Penn State, said the university will use its athletics reserve fund, capital maintenance budget and, if necessary, an internal bond issue to address the fine. He did not elaborate.
• A four-year postseason ban, which will prohibit Penn State from competing in any bowl games or the Big Ten Championship. But because of the severity of the penalties, it is unlikely Penn State will field a football team good enough to qualify for postseason play. The penalty matches the longest bowl ban for a Division I-A football program, which was imposed upon North Carolina State beginning in 1956 and Indiana University beginning in 1960.
• Vacating 111 victories beginning in 1998, when school administrators first learned of allegations of child sexual assault perpetrated by Mr. Sandusky, through 2011. That reduces Mr. Paterno's career wins total to 298.
• A reduction in athletic scholarships that will limit the size and strength of the school's football program. For the four-year period that starts in 2013, Penn State can distribute a maximum of 15 new football scholarships per season, down from the current 25. And for the four-year period that starts in 2014, the school will be limited to 65 total football scholarships, down from a total of 85.
• A five-year probation period. Should the school commit, other violations while on probation, the punishment will be more severe.
To relieve the burden on current players, the NCAA stipulated that any returning or incoming player can transfer to another school and begin play immediately. Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president of academic and membership affairs, said the association is looking to lighten some of the other restrictions to transfers, such as the ability to visit schools. Additionally, the NCAA is open to allowing schools to go over the NCAA maximum scholarship allowance to take in Penn State players.
"The immediate consequences here have an impact on these students who didn't have anything directly to do with the transgressions at Penn State," Mr. Lennon said. "We're trying to provide the best relief possible."
NCAA vice president David Berst, who led the investigation against SMU and announced that school's punishment in 1987, said Penn State's penalties are "as severe as any that I can recall."
Mr. Berst was optimistic these sanctions will usher in a new era of responsibility among NCAA member schools. The NCAA, he said, will look at ways it can more aggressively investigate and punish schools for lack of institutional control.
"This really is a message to the athletic culture that we have in various programs," he said. "Somehow, that can't so overwhelm the other reasons that we conduct athletics programs."
The school also will be required to undertake a series of corrective actions, which includes adopting some recommendations of the Freeh report and appointing an independent athletics integrity monitor.
Mr. Emmert and Mr. Ray lamented the NCAA could do little to assuage the "pain and anguish" Mr. Sandusky's victims and their families are experiencing.
"There is incredible interest in what will happen to Penn State football," Mr. Ray said. "But, the fundamental story of this horrific chapter should focus on the innocent children and the powerful people who let them down."
• A $60 million fine with the money going to child abuse programs;
• A four-year ban on postseason play;
• Vacating 111 wins from 1998 through 2011;
• A five-year probationary period;
• A reduction in athletic scholarships. For the four-year period that starts in 2013, Penn State can distribute a maximum of 15 new football scholarships a season, down from the current 25. And for the four-year period that starts in 2014, the school will be limited to 65 total football scholarships, down from the current total of 85;
• Permission for any current football player to transfer without penalty.
First Published July 24, 2012 12:00 am