Pennsylvania State University’s football program faced being shut down for four years if it hadn’t accepted other sanctions from college sports’ governing body for attempting to cover up Jerry Sandusky’s child abuse.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association considered the so-called death penalty, school President Rodney Erickson told the Board of Trustees last night, according to spokesman David La Torre.
Erickson agreed to a $60 million fine by the NCAA, which also stripped the school of 112 wins from 1998 through 2011, took away 20 total scholarships annually for four seasons and barred the Nittany Lions from bowl games for four years.
“The board finds the punitive sanctions difficult and the process with the NCAA unfortunate,” the trustees said in a statement. “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.”
Emmert told Erickson that a majority of the NCAA’s leadership agreed with the four-year ban after a report concluded that top university officials, including former coach Joe Paterno, tried to cover up the crimes of assistant coach Sandusky, the president told ESPN in an interview.
“That’s a pretty tough number to swallow,” Erickson said he recalled thinking after hearing about the ban. “It’s unprecedented. It’s a blow to the gut; there’s no doubt about that ... I couldn’t agree to that at all.”
The trustees said it was time to accept the punishment and move forward in anticipation of the fall football season.
“We anticipate and look forward to demonstrating our outstanding performance in complying with the sanctions,” the board said. “The commitment demonstrated by our student athletes in recent days embodies all that is good about Penn State and we look forward to unprecedented support by the Nittany nation when we take the field this fall.”
Senior running back Michael Zordich and linebacker Michael Mauti led a group of more than two dozen Penn State football players who vowed to stay committed to the team, while others were being recruited to other schools.
“We take this as an opportunity to create our own legacy,” Mauti told reporters yesterday. “This program was not built by one man, and this program sure as hell is not going to get torn down by one man.”
Zordich said the players were eyeing the NCAA’s decision as an opportunity, rather than a punishment.
“We’re going to stick together through this; we’re going to see this thing through,” Zordich said. “We have an obligation to Penn State. We’re going to embrace this opportunity.”
The NCAA is allowing any entering or returning Nittany Lion football player to transfer to another school and play immediately. In addition, any football player choosing to remain at Penn State will keep his scholarship regardless of whether he continues to play on the team, provided he maintains the academic requirements.
The sanctions will affect the football team long after the ban ends and the fine is paid, said Brandon Huffman, a college football recruiting analyst for Scout.com.
The team will struggle to retain players and to recruit, and it may take at least eight years, or until the first class of full scholarships enters its senior season, for the program to resemble the perennial Top 25 team that it became under Paterno.
The Penn State football team will be ineligible to receive its share of the Big Ten’s bowl revenue during the four-year postseason ban, roughly $13 million, which will be donated to charitable organizations dedicated to the protection of children. The Nittany Lions also can’t participate in the Big Ten’s championship game for four years.
The NCAA acted against the State College, Pennsylvania- based school less than two weeks after an investigation found Paterno, who died of lung cancer in January, and other school officials tried to cover up abuse allegations. The 68-year-old Sandusky, a football assistant coach for 31 years, was convicted last month on 45 criminal counts tied to the abuse of 10 boys over a 15-year period starting in 1994.
In the fiscal year ending in 2011, Penn State’s athletic department generated $116.1 million in operating revenue and posted a $14.8 million operating profit, according to school records.
Bill O’Brien, hired in January as the Nittany Lions’ coach, said in a statement that he remains dedicated to the school and program. Acting Athletic Director David Joyner said in a statement that he agreed that the “culture at Penn State must change.”
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