The governing body of U.S. college sports took sweeping, unprecedented action against Penn State University’s revered football program on Monday in response to a child sex abuse scandal, fining the school $60 million and voiding the team’s victories for the past 14 seasons.
While the school was not given the so-called “death penalty” that could have suspended its football program, it was banned from post-season bowl games for four years and had the number of scholarships available to players reduced from 15 to 25.
Penn State officials were accused of not taking action after being alerted to child sex abuse by former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. The scandal tainted one of college football’s leading coaches, the late Joe Paterno, and led to his firing last year along with other top school officials.
The punishment, announced by the National College Athletic Association at a news conference in Indianapolis by NCAA Mark Emmert, was unprecedented for its swiftness and breadth. It was the latest body blow to an institution still reeling from the child molestation conviction last month of Sandusky, who was a long-time assistant coach under Paterno.
It also put another blotch on the diminishing legacy of Paterno, who until Monday’s action had held the record for victories among big-time U.S. college football coaches in a career that spanned more than 40 seasons. Paterno lost that status since the NCAA’s punishment includes voiding the Nittany Lions’ victories between 1998 and 2011 - the time period covering when allegations against Sandusky were first made and when they came to light.
Emmert said the NCAA chose not to levy the so-called “death penalty” that would have eliminated an entire season or more for the football program because it would have harmed individuals with no role in the Sandusky scandal.
The Penn State case struck to the heart of college sports, and emphasized the need to make sure the focus of athletic programs was integrity, honesty and responsibility, rather than “hero worship and winning at all costs,” said Emmert, who pulled no punches in a scathing assessment of the behavior of Penn State administrators.
“This case involves tragic and tragically unnecessary circumstances,” Emmert said. “One of the grave damages stemming from our love of sports is that the sports themselves can become too big to fail, indeed too big to even challenge. The result can be an erosion of academic values that are replaced by the value of hero worship and winning at all costs.
“In the Penn State case, the results were perverse and unconscionable,” he said. “No price the NCAA can levy will repair the grievous damage inflicted by Jerry Sandusky on his victims. However, we can make clear that the culture, actions and inactions that allowed them to be victimized will not be tolerated in collegiate athletics.”
In June, Sandusky, 68, was convicted of sexually abusing 10 boys over 15 years. He awaits sentencing and could be given as many as 373 years in prison.
This month, former FBI director Louis Freeh released a report that criticized Paterno for his role in protecting Sandusky and the school’s image at the expense of young victims.
Emmert said the criminal investigation of Sandusky and the Freeh report allowed it to act with unprecedented speed in determining the penalties. The NCAA reserves the right to conduct its own investigation at a later time, he said.
College football is a huge generator of money for major U.S. universities such as Penn State because of large television contracts and the millions of fans attending their teams’ games in the fall. Penn State’s program, which Paterno led to national championships in 1982 and 1986, was rated the third most valuable by Forbes magazine.
The NCAA penalty was handed down one day after Penn State removed a statue of Paterno from in front of the university football stadium.
NO NCAA INVESTIGATION
The NCAA acted with unprecedented speed, relying on Freeh’s findings instead of conducting its own investigation.
Freeh’s report, commissioned by the university’s board of trustees and released on July 12, said Paterno and other high-ranking school officials covered up Sandusky’s actions for years while demonstrating a callous disregard for the abuse victims.
Paterno was fired by Penn State’s board in November, days after Sandusky was arrested for the abuse. He died in January of lung cancer.
In 2001, graduate assistant Mike McQueary witnessed Sandusky assaulting a boy in the showers at the Penn State athletic complex. McQueary told Paterno, who told Athletic Director Tim Curley, who subsequently talked with then-university Vice President Gary Schultz and university President Graham Spanier. No one went to the police.
Spanier was fired in November at the same time as Paterno. Curley and Schultz have been charged with perjury for allegedly lying to a grand jury investigating Sandusky’s crimes and for failing to report suspected child abuse. They have pleaded not guilty.
The university is also under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education for possible violations of the Clery Act, which requires colleges to collect and report daily and annual crime statistics and issue timely warnings.
NCAA sanctions against Penn State in Sandusky case
The governing body of U.S. college sports imposed unprecedented sanctions on Penn State University and its football program on Monday for not taking action after being alerted to child sex abuse by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
The following are details of the sanctions imposed:
- A fine of $60 million to be used to fund a foundation to help victims of child sex abuse. The fine is equivalent to the one-year gross revenue of the football program.
- The football team is banned from bowl games and other post-season games for four years - a move that excludes Penn State from some of the most high-profile games of the year and effectively eliminates it from competition for the Division I national championship.
- A reduction in the number of football scholarships to 15 from 25 per year for four years. Any returning football players can transfer to other schools immediately with no restriction.
- The team’s wins from 1998 through to 2011 are voided. This dates from when the first allegations were made against Sandusky in 1998 through to his arrest in 2011. The move means former head coach Joe Paterno, who died in January, will no longer hold the record for most victories by a major college football coach.
- A five-year probationary period during which a third party monitor will work with the university to promote academic integrity and compliance with the recommendations of the Freeh Report, which criticized Paterno and other top university officials for their role in protecting Sandusky, and the school’s image, at the expense of Sandusky’s young victims.
- The NCAA reserved the right to conduct its own investigations into individuals involved in the case.