College Football: NCAA Gives Penn State Everything but “Death Penalty”


After months of speculation as to the fate of Penn State University’s football program on Monday the NCAA levied heavy sanctions on PSU resulting from a football first culture that allowed former defensive coordinator Jerry Sundusky to sexually abuse children on campus.

The investigation of Sandusky and the cover-up from within culminated with the release of the Freeh Report, an investigation commissioned by Penn State University, after Sandusky was convicted on 45 of 48 counts of sexual crimes against children as passed by a jury of his peers on June 22.

In order to grasp the seriousness of the charges brought against Sandusky outside of a college football context they are as follows:

  • 1 count of criminal intent to commit indecent assault
  • 7 counts of indecent assault
  • 8 counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse
  • 9 counts of unlawful contact with minors
  • 10 counts of corruption of minors
  • 10 counts of endangering the welfare of children

The findings in the Freeh Report released July 12, lead the NCAA to the state, “(The Freeh Report) presents an unprecedented failure of institutional integrity leading to a culture in which a football program was held in higher esteem than the values of the institution, the values of the NCAA, the values of higher education, and most disturbingly the values of human decency.”

Joe Paterno’s reputation and stature as a college football icon has taken several hits posthumously (Dec. 21, 1926 – Jan. 22, 2012). The man once thought of as a pillar of honesty and integrity while posing as a college football icon in the living rooms of recruits’ homes and on the millions of TV screens across the U.S. seems anything but the man college football fans believed him to be.

Paterno’s status as an icon was not limited to the University Park campus but across the nation after 62 years as a coach for the Nittany Lions, 44 as head coach (1950-2012). When Paterno was forced to resign from PSU due to the Sandusky scandal he did so as the all-time leader in career wins in college football with 409 victories.

As the Freeh Reported found, an extension of Paterno’s iconic stature was taken advantage of by not only Jerry Sandusky, but also by Paterno himself resulting in a horrific change in the lives of not only Sandusky’s victims, but now those that support Penn State University.

In emails retrieved and scrutinized dating back to 1998 the Freeh Report found that Joe Paterno was aware of Sandusky’s criminal behavior with a minor in the showers at that time. Paterno was also made aware of another incident involving Sandusky, this time, in 2001.

Even after Jerry Sandusky’s incidents were made known from within the program he was allowed complete access to Penn State’s facilities until November 2011.

Sandusky began his PSU coaching career in 1969 as a defensive line coach before becoming a defensive coordinator for Joe Paterno in 1977. Sandusky went to battle with Paterno every college football Saturday for 30 years winning two national championships during that time (1982 and 1986) with another undefeated season in 1994 before Sandusky retired in 1999.

That 30 year bond and friendship proved to be too much for Paterno to look past, which ultimately could result in the complete collapse of the PSU football program.

The NCAA posted a $60 million sanction on Penn State, the equivalent of one year’s football revenue for the university, on Monday. The monies paid are to be allocated into an endowment for programs preventing child sexual abuse or assisting victims of such crimes, but cannot be circumvented back into a university sponsored program that aids in a similar manner.

Included in the sanctions is a four-year postseason ban along with five years of probation. Penn State will be subject to further penalties if the university does not follow the requirements of the sanctions and/or violates any NCAA rule by any sports program within the athletic department.

Joe Paterno’s place in NCAA history has been wiped off the books as the school is to vacate all wins from 1998 through 2011.

This action removes “Jo Pa” as the all-time winningest coach in Division-I history. His win-loss record is now 298-136-3 instead of 409-136-3. The vacated wins include six bowl victories and two Big Ten conference titles (2005 and 2008).

Penn State is also required to reduce their total football scholarships, 10 initial and 20 total for each year over a four-year period; only 25 total scholarships are allowed in a given year to each Division-I college football program in good standing with the NCAA.

In an act of kindness towards the student-athletes currently part of the Nittany Lions program, the NCAA will allow any returning or soon to be enrolled Penn State football player the ability to transfer from the program without having to sit out a year per usual NCAA transfer rules.

The fallout for Penn State from the horrible acts of one man and the cover-up by the individuals from within is still to be determined and may not fully be realized for years to come. The sanctions imposed have everything attached to it, but the words “Death Penalty” as it should be.

The ultimate tone for the fall of the program will be from within the current PSU football locker room. Will the team leaders and upperclassmen be able to hold the entire squad together in an act of unity, foolishly or otherwise?

Will those student athletes that leave the program be villainized by Penn State alumni and fans for doing so; if so, why? Does the love for a football program override the heinous acts that occurred in the showers within the Lasch Building for years?

Any college football fan can feel for the fans of Penn State football. The love for one’s college football team runs deep, but how long will it take before Penn State fans realize that Sandusky’s victims could have been their brother, best friend, or even worse their own child?

The loss of players on the 2012 team before the season starts will lay the groundwork for future recruiting classes or the lack thereof. Recruiting classes by and large equal wins and losses on the field. PSU has already lost off the field, but won by not receiving an outright “death penalty.” The future will determine how badly the program will lose on the field going forward?