The epic fall from grace that Penn State and Joe Paterno have endured in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal received devastating official sanction Monday when the NCAA, in a series of harsh and unprecedented penalties, fined the university $60 million, hamstrung its football program for the near future, and significantly diminished the late coach's place in history.
In addition to the substantial financial penalty, Penn State will be banned from postseason bowl play for four years and stripped of 10 football scholarships per year for four years. More surprising, the Nittany Lions also must vacate all victories from 1998 through 2011, meaning Paterno, the school's head coach for 46 years before his dismissal in November, no longer ranks as major-college football's winningest coach.
"Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing, and protecting young people," NCAA president Mark Emmert said at an Indianapolis news conference. "For the next several years, Penn State can focus on rebuilding its athletic culture, not on whether it's going to a bowl game."
According to Emmert, Penn State will pay the $60 million fine in five annual payments of $12 million, with the money going to an endowment that will fund various child-welfare organizations.
NCAA officials apparently were eager to portray their stern and stunning reaction as a line in the sand against corruption in the lucrative and, at times, lax world of collegiate sports.
"We've had enough," said Ed Ray, Oregon State's president and the chairman of the NCAA's executive committee. "This [whatever-it-takes-to-win philosophy] has to stop."
Penn State, facing a tidal wave of civil lawsuits from victims of the convicted Sandusky, agreed to accept the NCAA's sanctions without appeal.
"We had our backs to the wall on this," Penn State president Rodney Erickson told the Centre Daily Times. "We did what we thought was necessary to save the program."
The move angered at least one member of the board of trustees. "I think we rolled over and played dead," said Anthony Lubrano, the Downingtown resident who was elected several months after Sandusky's November arrest triggered the ongoing earthquake. "I'm outraged that the university signed a consent agreement without bringing it to the board. I think it's fair to say several board members feel the same."
"I think the NCAA was being overly sanctimonious," said Ed McCauley, 91, a 1942 graduate who lived in Newtown Square for 54 years before moving to Altoona in 2009. "I feel bad for the program, bad for the school. Everything about it is bad."
But former trustee Michael DiBerardinis, a deputy Philadelphia mayor and parks commissioner, agreed with the NCAA's actions.
"It matches the severity of the crimes and of the complacency of the university. The [football] program will still continue to play a big role in the life of the university but a more appropriate one."
Penn State was spared becoming just the second school to receive the NCAA's "death penalty." (SMU received what had been seen as the NCAA's ultimate punishment in 1987, being forced to miss a season.) But even when these punishments expire, the program might never again return to the levels of financial and football prominence it achieved during Paterno's long reign.
Financially, the athletic department figures to take a substantial hit. Acting in conjunction with the NCAA, the Big Ten Conference banned Penn State from sharing in any bowl revenue for four years. That could cost the school as much as $13 million a year.
Penn State football in 2011 turned a profit of $53 million, money that funded the university's other sports, few of which generate substantial revenue. The NCAA ruling mandated that no sports could be eliminated while Penn State pays off the $60 million.
While current Nittany Lions players were off-limits to the media Monday, it's possible many might now opt to transfer, a prospect enhanced by the NCAA's decision to allow instant eligibility for Penn State transferees. However, defensive back Stephon Morris tweeted: "I'm not going anywhere."
Likewise, recruits in new coach Bill O'Brien's first class could feel compelled to decommit and play elsewhere. One player, Ross Douglas, a defensive back from Avon, Ohio, decommitted Monday, his father told Scout.com.
"I will do everything in my power to not only comply, but help guide the university forward to become a national leader in ethics, compliance, and operational excellence," said O'Brien, who was hired in December, a month before Paterno's death from lung cancer. "I knew when I accepted the position that there would be tough times ahead. But I am committed for the long term."
For years, it was assumed Paterno's successor would have difficulty living up to the standards set by the bespectacled coach who in winning two national titles and legions of admirers earned a reputation as the conscience of college sports.
Now, the trouble for O'Brien could come in trying to live down the shame and trauma absorbed by Penn State from the one-two punch of Sandusky's criminal behavior and the university cover-up revealed by former FBI Director Louis Freeh's investigation.
A day after president Erickson ordered the removal of the Paterno statue that stood outside Beaver Stadium, the NCAA knocked the once-adored coach off his statistical pedestal.
Without the 111 wins his Nittany Lions accumulated since 1998, Paterno's total of 298 victories now ranks him well down the list of Division I coaches, a category now headed by Grambling's Eddie Robinson (408).
Former player and current trustee Adam Taliaferro became an inspiration for Penn State students and alumni everywhere after he was paralyzed in a football game against Ohio State as a freshman in 2000 and made a storybook recovery despite dire predictions.
"I had this life-altering injury playing in a game that they're now saying didn't exist. It hurt me," he said in a telephone interview. "My knee-jerk reaction is, this isn't fair." But then he decided to step back and think about it. "We all are emotional right now. I've always prided myself on not making decisions when I'm emotional. It's imperative we have time to talk with one another."
Asked why the NCAA went all the way back to 1998 to punish Penn State and Paterno, Emmert said: "That was when the first reported incident of abuse occurred and that is when the failure to respond began. That was part of the time, one can make an argument, the failures began inside the institution. It seemed to me and the executive committee that was the appropriate beginning date."
This latest blow to Paterno's legacy triggered another angry response from his family. Like Lubrano, family members complained that the university's subdued acceptance of the NCAA sanctions suggested a "panicked response."
"The release of the Freeh report has triggered an avalanche of vitriol, condemnation and posthumous punishment on Joe Paterno," the family statement read. "The NCAA has now become the latest party to accept the report as the final word on the Sandusky scandal. 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.
"That the President, the Athletic Director and the Board of Trustees accepted this unprecedented action by the NCAA without requiring a full due process hearing before the Committee on Infractions is an abdication of their responsibilities and a breach of their fiduciary duties to the University and the 500,000 alumni. Punishing past, present and future students of the University because of Sandusky's crimes does not serve justice."
The revision means that Penn State's most recent victory came in 1997, when the quarterback was Mike McQueary. McQueary, of course, became a pivotal witness in the case against Sandusky after he saw the coach in a football-building shower with a young boy in 2001.
Gov. Corbett said no taxpayer money would be used to meet the university's obligation.
"I am grateful that the NCAA did not impose the 'death penalty,' which would have also had a severe detrimental impact on the citizens of State College, Centre County, and the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania," Corbett said in a statement.
"The appalling actions of a few people have brought us once again into the national spotlight. We have taken a monster off the streets and while we will never be able to repair the injury done to these children, we must repair the damage to this university."
The NCAA's unprecedented actions suggested both the seriousness and uniqueness of the Penn State scandal.
"It's important to separate this from a traditional enforcement case," Emmert said. "This is action from the executive committee to correct what was seen as a horrifically egregious situation in intercollegiate athletics."
Erickson, meanwhile, issued a statement that condemned the administrative style that he indicated contributed to the cover-up. Freeh's report found Erickson's predecessor, Graham B. Spanier, as well as Paterno, athletic director Tim Curley, and vice president Gary Schultz culpable of failing to act against Sandusky in order to maintain the profitable football program.
"We must create a culture in which people are not afraid to speak up, management is not compartmentalized, all are expected to demonstrate the highest ethical standards, and the operating philosophy is open, collegial, and collaborative," Erickson said.
Curley and Schultz face charges of perjury and failure to report child abuse. Both have entered not-guilty pleas. A trial date has not been set in their case.
Vicky Triponey, the former Penn State administrator who told authorities Paterno often tried to remove the disciplining of his players from her office's jurisdiction, praised the NCAA's actions.
"It is clear that the leaders involved in these decisions fully understand how critical it is that we hold the institution accountable and that we use this heartbreaking wake-up call to more fully understand the cultural issues that allowed such a horrific tragedy to occur," she said in a statement.
"All who care about Penn State, about higher education, and about college athletics need to recommit to the basic purposes of higher education."
Also contributing to this article were Inquirer staff writers Angela Couloumbis, Melissa Dribben, Mike Jensen, Joe Juliano, Diane Mastrull, Marc Narducci, Jeremy Roebuck, and Susan Snyder.
We invite you to comment on this story by clicking here. Comments will be moderated.