INDIANAPOLIS (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.
Other sanctions five years’ probation, and the NCAA also said that any current or incoming football players are free to immediately transfer and compete at another school.
NCAA President Mark Emmert announced the staggering sanctions at a news conference in Indianapolis. Though the NCAA stopped short of the “death penalty,” the punishment is so harsh it’s more like a slow-death penalty.
“The sanctions needed to reflect our goals of providing cultural change,” Emmert said.
The NCAA ruling holds the university accountable for the failure of those in power to protect children and insists that all areas of the university community are held to the same high standards of honesty and integrity.
“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 also announced that it would weigh in with sanctions of its own during a teleconference at 11 a.m. EDT, and the NCAA reserved the right to add additional penalties.
Sandusky, a former Penn State defensive coordinator, was found guilty in June of sexually abusing young boys, sometimes on campus. 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 for years about accusations against Sandusky.
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.
“Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people,” 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.”
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 in State College, Pa., and was a rallying point for the coaches’ supporters throughout the scandal.
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 investigation headed by former FBI Director Louis Freeh said that Penn State 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.
Penn State has already agreed to not fight the sanctions.
Emmert said the university and the NCAA have signed a consent decree, essentially a pact signing off on the penalties.
“This case is obviously incredibly unprecedented in every aspect of it, as are these actions that we’re taking today,” he said.