Paterno family calls Penn State sanctions 'panicked'
Published Monday, July 23, 2012 9:02AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, July 23, 2012 8:45PM EDT
The family of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno condemned a series of sanctions levelled against the school’s scandal-ridden football team on Monday, calling them “a panicked response” that defame Paterno’s legacy.
The Paterno family released a statement Monday, shortly after news broke that the National Collegiate Athletic Association – U.S. college sport’s governing body-- had served the school with a lengthy list of punitive sanctions that stop just short of shutting down the university’s sports team completely.
The sanctions were served two weeks after an investigation commissioned by Penn State found that the Hall of Fame coach and several other officials stayed quiet about accusations that former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was abusing young boys on campus.
Sandusky was found guilty in June of sexually abusing 10 boys over a period of 15 years.
In its statement, the Paterno family said that while it absolutely condemns sexual abuse, the NCAA sanctions denigrate Paterno’s coaching legacy and wrongly punish Penn State students.
“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,” read the statement.
The statement also said that Penn State President Rodney Erickson, the school’s athletic director and the Board of Trustees failed by not seeking a full hearing before the NCAA’s infractions committee.
Among the NCAA sanctions are a US$60-million fine and a four-year ban on participating in any 'Bowl' or postseason games.
The school will also see the number of scholarships reduced from 85 to 65 every year for a four-year period starting in 2014-15. Penn State will also be on probation for five years.
NCAA President Mark Emmert announced the sanctions at a news conference in Indianapolis, explaining that the organization fast-tracked the penalties instead of waiting for the typical back-and-forth of investigations and hearings that can take months to conclude.
"Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people," Emmert said, noting that Penn State had agreed to accept what he called "unprecedented" penalties.
"The Penn State case has provoked in all of us powerful emotions and shaken our confidence in many ways," Emmert said.
"After much debate, we concluded the sanctions needed to reflect our mission of cultural change. The actions already taken by the new chair of the board and the new president, have demonstrated a strong desire and determination by Penn State and the university to right these severe wrongs."
Perhaps the most unusual of all the penalties is the cancelling of all Penn State football victories between 1998 and 2011. The independent Penn State scandal investigation had found that Paterno and other senior university officials first learned about the allegations against Sandusky in 1998.
The loss of 112 of what had been a record 409 wins over 46 seasons means Paterno, who was fired days after Sandusky was charged last November and died in January, loses his vaunted status as major U.S. college football's all-time "winningest" coach.
That honour now goes to former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, who had 377 major-college victories.
"I didn't want it to happen like this," Bowden said. "Wish I could have earned it, but that's the way it is."
The $60 million fine, equivalent to a year's revenue for the Penn State football program, will be put toward an endowment for child sexual abuse prevention and victim assistance programs independent of the university. The payments will be made in five annual $12-million instalments.
Besides the financial loss, the reduction from 85 to 65 players will make it hard for the team to compete at the highest levels.
As a result, the NCAA says any current or incoming Penn State football players are free to transfer and compete for another school right away.
There had been speculation Penn State's football program would be shut down completely, a move typically reserved for school's that commit violations while already under probation.
Emmert made it clear the punishment is indeed intended to cut the program down, but not kill it.
"Our goal is not to be just punitive, but to make sure the university establishes an athletic culture in which football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people," Emmert said, urging others to conduct a "gut-check" to ensure they're not trying to win "at all costs".
In a statement, current Penn State head football coach Bill O'Brien took the penalties in stride.
"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,” O'Brien said in a statement. “I knew when I accepted the position that there would be tough times ahead. But I am committed for the long term to Penn State and our student athletes."
A number of current and former Penn State students questioned why athletes and the student body were being punished for the mistakes of top officials.
"They keep breaking our hearts and breaking our hearts and breaking our hearts," said student Nicole Lord.
"Our heritage, our legacy has been tainted and damaged," said Troy Cromwell, who was a wide receiver on the team in 1986.
“But at the end of the day, there were still those kids, those poor kids, and those victims, and we have to think about them first in everything that we do."
With files from The Associated Press