UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State womens basketball coach Coquese Washington was having a rare day off from the recruiting trail.
At home for her daughter Rhaiynas birthday the one day she wont recruit in the summer season Washington turned on the television at 9 a.m. to watch as NCAA president Mark Emmert read off the sanctions against the Nittany Lion football program and athletic department.
With newly christened 3-year-old Rhaiyna chattering in her ear, Washington took in Emmerts words.
I was a little bit stunned because of the scope of everything, said Washington late Tuesday. But at the same time, I was relieved. The death penalty that was the chatter that was out there I felt like that would have been a much bigger blow to our football program, to our athletic department, to the university overall.
While it was a little shocking, I was relieved that we still have an opportunity to operate. While were working to get better, we can still run our athletic department and not have all of the collateral effect and damage to the community at large that the death penalty would have brought.
Washington, who has received oral commitments from five players in the recruiting Class of 2013, said she has received no negative feedback from recruits from Mondays announcement by the NCAA. She spent nearly all of Tuesday recruiting in Maryland.
We havent heard anything negative from any of our recruits, she said. The response has been pretty good. I think people understand there were terrible circumstances. Everybody just feels like the name and character of Penn State will carry the day. I think all of the good will the Penn State community has built up over the many decades that is carrying the day.
While there was conjecture other Penn State sports would suffer as the athletic department looked to ease the burden of the heavy financial penalties ($60 million from the NCAA and $13 million from the Big Ten over the next five years), Washington wasnt worried.
I personally never doubted that would be the case, said Washington, who is headed into her sixth season leading the Lady Lion program. Penn State has always been a place where all of the sports are important and supported. We support each other. We always have.
Its that support Washington says that has carried the university since charges against Jerry Sandusky, the firing of football coach Joe Paterno and charges of perjury against two other university officials (including athletic director Tim Curley) first surfaced last November. Sandusky was subsequently convicted on 45 counts of child sexual abuse.
Every piece of the university has been affected by this, she said. ... It certainly has brought a greater sense of connection, camaraderie and sense of purpose to work through this as a family. We talk about the Penn State family and ... Ive never felt it like I have over these last eight months the sense of family, the sense of togetherness and the sense of how can we help each other in any way to get through this in the best way we know how.
Washington, whose team embraced presenting a positive image of the university in winning the Big Ten title and in its Sweet 16 run in the NCAA Tournament in March, expects more of the same.
I absolutely believe that we will feel a greater sense of purpose this year to give our best effort and to represent the university with a level of class, grace and dignity, she said. I dont think that will be any different than weve done in the past, but I think it will take on great meaning. You have 600,000 alums out there who now will be feeling very connected to Lady Lion basketball and anything that has to do with Penn State. We want to do our best and put our best face forward when we compete. I know all of the student-athletes and professors will do that.
She is certain that the university will take the lessons learned from the Freeh Report and the NCAA sanctions to heart.
We know that we can be better, Washington said. At the end of the day, I think that the alums, the fans, the coaches the student-athletes understand that we can be better. Lets just go about the business of doing that being the best Penn State we can be individually and collectively. If we do that, well start to begin the healing process and moving forward.