STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (WFAN/AP) — Penn State football was all but leveled Monday by an NCAA ruling that wiped away 14 years of coach Joe Paterno’s victories and imposed a mountain of fines and penalties, crippling a program whose pedophile assistant coach spent uncounted years molesting children, sometimes on university property.
The sanctions by the governing body of college sports, which capped eight months of turmoil on the central Pennsylvania campus, stopped short of delivering the “death penalty” of shutting down the sport. But the NCAA hit Penn State with $60 million in fines, ordered it out of the postseason for four years, and will cap scholarships at 20 below the normal limit for four years. The school also will be on probation for five years.
Any current or incoming football players are free to immediately transfer and compete at another school.
And now, with his statue no longer outside Beaver Stadium, Penn State’s late coach has been dropped from his perch atop the Division I record books.
“The records will reflect these changes,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said as he announced the penalties at a news conference in Indianapolis.
The sanctions all stem from the case of former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted last month of sexually abusing 10 boys over 15 years. An investigation commissioned by the school and released July 12 found that Paterno, who died in January, and several other top officials at Penn State stayed quiet about accusations against Sandusky in 1998 and 2001.
“Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people,” Emmert said.
The NCAA ruling holds the entire school community accountable for failing to protect children.
“Against this backdrop, Penn State accepts the penalties and corrective actions announced today by the NCAA,” Penn State President Rodney Erickson said in a statement. “With today’s announcement and the action it requires of us, the University takes a significant step forward.”
The Big Ten announced that Penn State would not be allowed to share in the conference’s bowl revenue during the NCAA’s postseason ban, an estimated loss of about $13 million. And the NCAA reserved the right to add additional penalties.
Emmert fast-tracked penalties rather than go through the usual circuitous series of investigations and hearings. The NCAA said the $60 million is equivalent to the annual gross revenue of the football program. The money must be paid into an endowment for external programs preventing child sexual abuse or assisting victims and may not be used to fund such programs at Penn State.
“The sanctions needed to reflect our goals of providing cultural change,” Emmert said.
By vacating 112 Penn State victories from 1998-2011, the sanctions cost Paterno 111 wins. Former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden will now hold the top spot in the NCAA record book with 377 major-college wins. Paterno, who was fired days after Sandusky was charged, will be credited with 298 wins.
The scholarship reductions mean Penn State’s roster will be capped at 65 scholarship players beginning in 2014. The normal scholarship limit for major college football programs is 85. Playing with 20 less is devastating to a program that tries to compete at the highest level of the sport.
In comparison, the harsh NCAA sanctions placed upon USC several years ago left the Trojans with only 75 scholarships per year over a three-year period.
The postseason ban is the longest handed out by the NCAA since it gave a four-year ban to Indiana football in 1960.
Bill O’Brien, who was hired to replace Paterno, now faces the daunting task of building future teams with severe limitations, and trying to keep current players from fleeing to other schools. Star players such as tailback Silas Redd and linebacker Gerald Hodges are now essentially free agents.
“I knew when I accepted the position that there would be tough times ahead,” O’Brien said. “But I am committed for the long term to Penn State and our student athletes.”
Players left a team meeting on campus in State College, Pa., without talking to reporters. Penn State’s season starts Sept. 1 at home against Ohio University.
The sanctions came a day after the school took down the statue of Paterno that stood outside Beaver Stadium and was a rallying point for the coaches’ supporters throughout the scandal.
At a student union on campus, several dozen alumni and students gasped, groaned and whistled as they watched Emmert’s news conference.
“It was kind of just like a head shaker,” said Matt Bray, an 18-year-old freshman from West Chester, Pa. “You knew it was coming, but it was hard to hear.”
Emmert had earlier said he had “never seen anything as egregious” as the horrific crimes of Sandusky and the cover-up by Paterno and others at the university, including former Penn State President Graham Spanier and athletic director Tim Curley.
The Penn State investigation headed by former FBI Director Louis Freeh said school officials kept what they knew from police and other authorities for years, enabling the abuse to go on.
There had been calls across the nation for Penn State to receive the “death penalty,” and Emmert had not ruled out that possibility as late as last week — though Penn State did not fit the criteria for it. That punishment is for teams that commit a major violation while already being sanctioned.
Emmert said the NCAA decided against the so-called death penalty also in part to avoid “significant unintended harm to many who had nothing to do with this case.”
“This case is obviously incredibly unprecedented in every aspect of it,” Emmert said, “as are these actions that we’re taking today.”
Penn State football under Paterno was built on — and thrived upon — the premise that it did things the right way. That it was not a football factory where only wins and losses determined success. Every major college football program tries to send that message, but Penn State built its brand on it.
Paterno’s “Grand Experiment” was about winning with integrity, graduating players and sending men into the world ready to succeed in life, not just football. But he still won a lot — a record-setting 409 victories.
The NCAA had never sanctioned, or seriously investigated Penn State. Few, if any, national powers could make that claim.
Southern California, Ohio State, Alabama, all have run afoul of the NCAA. Even Notre Dame went on probation for two years after a booster lavished gifts on players in the 1990s.
The harshest penalty handed down to a football program came in the ’80s, when the NCAA shut down SMU’s team for a year. SMU football has never gotten back to the level of success it had before the “death penalty.”
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