Penn State football was all but leveled Monday by an National Collegiate Athletic Association 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 Indianapolis-based 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 include five years of 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 prepared statement. "With today's announcement and the action it requires of us, the University takes a significant step forward."
The Big Ten Conference said Penn State will not be allowed to share in the conference's bowl revenues while it is banned from the postseason by the NCAA. The Big Ten announced its own sanctions against Penn State about two hours after the NCAA handed down its penalties. 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 over recruiting violations.
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.
The ruling will have an immense effect on the school’s finances. 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.
Of Penn State’s 29 sports teams, only football and men’s basketball were profitable last year, with football generating an operating profit of $43.8 million on $58.9 million in revenue. The Nittany Lions had a 9-4 record last season.
A shutdown of the football program would have cost Penn State and the surrounding community more than $70 million, according to an economic study commissioned by the university for the 2008-09 school year. That included $51.1 million spent on hotels, souvenirs, food, services and entertainment by out- of-state visitors, which represent about 15 percent of those attending games at Beaver Stadium, which has a capacity of more than 106,500.
Penn State has an endowment of $1.3 billion, the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette reported in March, citing Graham Spanier, who was dismissed as university president in the scandal.
Ellen Staurowsky, a professor of sports management at Drexel University in Philadelphia, said the NCAA was right not to impose the death penalty because it would have financially affected an entire community, not just the football program, and wouldn’t address the multiple accountability failures at the school.
Geoffrey Rapp, a sports law professor at the University of Toledo in Ohio, said Sunday that the death penalty would have been the only punishment that fits Penn State’s crime.
“The failure here was at the highest levels of Penn State’s leadership, and as the Freeh Report indicates, the only solution involves a major change in institutional culture,” Rapp said in an e-mail. “Anything less than a break from football would not address the fundamental cultural shift needed.”
Southern Methodist University’s football program was closed in 1987 after it was found that 13 players received $61,000 from a slush fund provided by a booster. The Dallas-based school was unable to field a team in 1988 and had one winning record over the next 20 years after it returned in 1989, before bowl game appearances in 2009, 2010 and last year.
The NCAA also shut down the University of Kentucky basketball team for the 1952-53 season; the basketball team at the University of Southwestern Louisiana for two seasons from 1973-75; the men’s soccer team at Morehouse College in 2004 and 2005; and the men’s tennis program at MacMurray College for two seasons from 2005-07.