UNVIERSITY PARK — The collective gasps from the Penn State students huddled around a television in the Robeson Cultural Center grew as NCAA president Mark Emmert went through his checklist.
By the time Emmert was through, one thing was certain Nittany Lion football would never be the same.
Not the past, not the present and especially not the future.
Gone are 112 wins from the past 14 seasons, 111 belonging to Joe Paterno.
Gone (when added to a Big Ten sanction) is a roughly $73-million profit over the next five seasons.
Gone are bowl appearances over the next four seasons.
Gone are 40 scholarships over that four-year period.
Gone are the restrictions for any current players to transfer to another program inside or out of the Big Ten. Ouch.
Maybe there was a collective sigh (especially from area businessmen) that Penn State didnt receive the so-called death penalty, a suspension of one or more seasons of play. That preserves the area economy and the Saturday tailgates that so many have made a lifestyle over decades.
What those fans will get to see on those future Saturday afternoons is the real concern for a program that has been associated with excellence.
Maybe death for a season would have been better for the program than four seasons of reduced scholarships.
Penn State coach Bill OBrien will have no more than 65 scholarship players on the roster starting in 2014. Thats just two more than Football Championship Subdivision (Division I-AA) schools are allowed to offer.
No matter how well he and his staff recruits, its hard to believe OBrien can compete in a physical league such as the Big Ten with those kind of numbers. His opponents will carry 85 players on scholarship.
Former Penn State and NFL standout Brandon Noble put it eloquently while being interviewed by ESPN Radios Colin Cowherd a little more than an hour after Emmert lowered the boom on the Nittany Lions.
That just kills you, said Noble, now a defensive line coach at Coastal Carolina said. Its not quite the death penalty, but its a severe coma for four years.
And once Penn State awakens, can it fully recover?
Certainly recruiting will take a hit.
The best players want to compete for national championships and play in big bowl games.
Whether that was a consistent reality over the last decade at PSU is arguable, but Nittany Lion players went into each season believing they had a chance to play for a title or on New Years Day or after.
For the next four years, that dream wont exist. And with the limited number of scholarships, subsequent seasons will be a challenge to forge a winning record and become eligible for any bowl.
PSU fans can take solace that several of OBriens first high-profile recruits Adam Breneman, Garrett Sickles and Brendan Mahon are standing firm so far to their commitments to the first-year coach and the university. Via Twitter on Monday, each pledged their allegiance to the program.
Two others Greg Webb and Ross Douglas changed their minds. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg maybe the key to what happens with that Class of 2013. As for now, Hackenberg isnt saying.
To his credit, OBrien seems willing to scrap, no matter what the NCAA has dished out.
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, OBrien said in a statement released by the university Monday.
While Penn State tries to recover from sanctions that many pundits feel are worse than the death penalty SMU received in 1987, how much are the fans willing to pony up to see their team struggle?
Theres a reason why wins such as Appalachian States 34-32 victory over Michigan in 2007 are celebrated as colossal upsets they rarely happen.
OBrien is going to have to rely on Division I-AA numbers and walk-ons to beat the best of the Big Ten.
As one high school football coach told me many years ago, Were not real deep in the depth department.
OBrien will be able to identify with that assessment. Penn State has had a history of success with walk-ons Josh Hull, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood immediately come to mind but those kinds of success stories are more few and far between.
And can Penn State fans take six, seven or eight seasons near the bottom of the league? Will they be willing to pony up premium dollars to see the equivalent of an Indiana play on Saturday afternoons?
Youd expect Nittany Nation to initially rally around a collection of players and coaches who had nothing to do with convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky and the decisions made by university officials that led to Mondays NCAA sanctions.
Three consecutive seasons like 2003 or 2004 might test that loyalty.
With those penalties thrown down by Emmert and the NCAA, thats a distinct possibility.
And thats certainly enough to make one gasp.
Walt Moody can be reached at 231-4630. Follow him on Twitter @wmoodycdt