July 23, 2012 -- Penn State's football team was spared the death penalty today but the university was fined $60 million and the school's legendary former coach Joe Paterno was stripped of 13 years of wins and the title of winningest coach in history, the NCAA announced today.
"The historically unprecedented actions by the NCAA are warranted by the conspiracy of silence maintained at highest level of the university with reckless and callous disregard for children," Ed Ray, the chair of the NCAA's executive committee, said at the announcement today.
The football program will also be excluded from playing in bowl games and post-season games for four years, as well as having its football scholarships reduced from 25 to 15, and having to pay a $60 million fine, the equivalent of one year's revenues from the football program. The money will go to creating child sex abuse awareness programs around the country.
NCAA President Mark Emmert announced that the the university would vacate its wins from the years 1998 through 2011, the timespan that starts with the first allegation of abuse by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky through Sandusky's arrest in November of last year. The punishment will strip the Nittany Lions of two conference championships, six bowl game wins, and 111 games.
Paterno's title as winningest coach in history will drop to 12th winningest coach on the NCAA's list.
Students, teachers, and alumni gathered at Penn State University this morning to watch the broadcast of the news conference, and broke into tears as NCAA officials announced the punishment against Paterno. Students expressed anger over the steep fine and ban on bowl games included in the sanctions.
"I don't think it's necessary. I don't think the NCAA should have the authority to do something like this. This is not a football related issue. We didn't cheat at football and they shouldn't take our wins," said freshman Alex Gibson.
"It's hard to digest. It's seems a little premature because we don't really now what all happened, as in a court of law," said student Laura Lovins. "No matter what, we love Penn State football. Back in November, that was probably the proudest I've ever been to be a Penn State student, with the candlelight vigil and game at Nebraska."
"This is an opportunity," Lovins said, "not a funeral."
Paterno's family released a statement on behalf of the former coach, who died in January of cancer, condemning the NCAA's action.
"The sanctions announced by the NCAA today defame the legacy and contributions of a great coach and educator without any input from our family or those who knew him best," the statement read."Punishing past, present and future students of the University because of Sandusky's crimes does not serve justice. This is not a fair or thoughtful action; it is a panicked response to the public's understandable revulsion at what Sandusky did."
The NCAA considered imposing the so-called 'death penalty' on the school, according to the officials, who said they had discussed suspending the team for at least one season but decided against it to avoid punishing those who were not guilty of any infractions.
Ray, the president of Oregon State University, spoke on behalf of university presidents and chancellors who sit on the NCAA's executive committee and initiated the action against Penn State. He said that the action by the NCAA was meant to be a warning signal to universities across the country that a balance needs to be restored between academics and athletics.
"We said we've had enough. We have to reassert our responsibilities and charge to oversee athletics. The message is: the presidents and chancellors are in charge," he said. "I think every college and university needs to do a gut check on the balance between academics and athletics."
Emmert said he hoped that the punishments would ensure that at Penn State "football will never again be placed ahead of education nurturing and protecting young people."
He described the program as an "athletic culture that went horribly awry" and said Penn State had become a place where "academic values were replaced by hero worship and winning at all costs."
The announcement came just over a week after an internal investigation commissioned by the university found that Paterno, athletic director Tim Curley and university president Graham Spanier all "concealed" the child sex abuse allegations against Sandusky.
"The motivation [was] to avoid the consequences of bad publicity," said former FBI chief Louis Freeh, who led the independent investigation. "Bad publicity has consequences for the brand of Penn State University, the reputation of coaches, the ability to do fundraising. It's got huge implications."
Penn State Sex Scandal Costs School $60 Million Fine
The university agreed to treat the Freeh report as fact while in discussions with the NCAA, Emmert said today. The university also signed their agreement to the NCAA's sanctions prior to today's announcement.
The NCAA announcement also comes on the heels of another blow to the football program's legacy. The statue of Paterno outside of Beaver Stadium was permanently removed Sunday by the university's new president, Rodney Erickson.
Following Sandusky's arrest in November 2011, the NCAA sent a letter to university officials accusing the university of what seemed to be a lack of "ethical conduct" by coaches and "institutional control" by the school president, two main tenets of the NCAA's rule book. The organization's code of conduct notes, however, that the most egregious punishment is reserved for offenses that give team's a significant recruiting or competitive edge over opposing teams.
Only handed down five times in the NCAA's history, the so-called death penalty effectively dismantles the offending sports program for at least one academic year. Coaches cannot recruit or spend any time planning for the following season during the ban, and the program cannot collect any revenues.
Beth Loyd contributed to this report from State College, Pa.