The NCAA hit Penn State with a swift blitz Monday, striking a powerful blow to a football program, athletic department and university coping with the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal.
The sanctions announced by NCAA President Mark Emmert impact the present, future and past of the football program and range from a four-year postseason ban to vacating all wins from 1998 to 2011.
The NCAA bypassed typical protocol for levying penalties and corrective measures, sanctioning Penn State without conducting its own formal investigation.
Emmert said the NCAA used the Freeh report, a 267-page investigation detailing the role multiple key Penn State officials had in concealing Sandusky’s acts, as a major resource in its ruling. The NCAA announced its penalties 11 days after the report was released by former FBI director Louis Freeh.
“It is vastly more involved and thorough than any investigation we’ve ever conducted,” Emmert said.
The Freeh report, which was authorized and paid for by Penn State, criticizes multiple university officials, former Athletics Director Tim Curley, former President Graham Spanier, former football coach Joe Paterno and former Vice President of Finance Gary Schultz.
Sandusky was convicted on 45 of 48 counts of child abuse last month, Curley and Schultz face failure to report and perjury charges and Paterno died in January of lung cancer. Spanier hasn’t been charged with any criminal activity. Curley and Schultz have a pretrial hearing scheduled for Aug. 16.
“There has been much speculation on whether the NCAA has the authority to impose any type of penalty related to Penn State,” said Ed Ray, the NCAA’s Executive Committee chairman and Oregon State president. “This egregious behavior not only goes against our rules and constitution, but also against our values.”
Penn State President Rodney Erickson agreed to the sanctions as a consent decree, preventing the school from appealing the ruling.
The sanctions include:
• A four-year postseason ban beginning immediately. The ban makes Penn State ineligible to appear in bowl and Big Ten Conference championship games.
• A four-year scholarship reduction. Penn State will be limited to 15 scholarships for incoming players beginning in 2013-14. The sanctions will cap the number of scholarship players at 65 beginning in 2014. The NCAA normally permits Division I programs to award as many 25 football scholarships annually and carry 85 scholarship players on a roster.
• Waiver of transfer rules for existing players, meaning any current football player will be eligible to transfer and compete immediately at another Division I school.
• Vacating all wins from 1998 to 2011. Penn State will lose 112 victories during the period, dropping Paterno, who owned 111 of those wins, from first to seventh on college football's all-time list. The start of the 13-year period coincides with the earliest sexual abuse act involving Sandusky mentioned in the Freeh report.
The sanctions are among the most serious in the NCAA’s 106-year history. Penn State skirted the death penalty, which forced Southern Methodist to miss the 1987 season for providing improper benefits to players. SMU decided against fielding a team in 1988 because of troubles filling the roster.
“It will take some management by Penn State to get through this,” said Dave Berst, the NCAA’s infractions committee chairman. “It was a very difficult penalty for them.”
Berst served as NCAA’s director of enforcement when the organization sanctioned SMU, which still remains the only major program suspended for a season.
“It conjures up many of those memories for me and thinking about what has occurred over the years,” Berst said. “I don’t know if it draws any analogies between the two places.”
NCAA law expert Michael McCann said there are no rulings that compare to the one NCAA issued Monday.
“I wasn’t surprised by the type of sanctions,” said McCann, the director of sports law at the Vermont Law School. “They were what I expected. What surprised me was the haste in which the NCAA issued the sanctions and how it bypassed the normal process, which involves hearings and appeals. But obviously Penn State consented to this.”
The NCAA will also force Penn State to adopt all measures recommended in Chapter 10 of the Freeh report. The chapter examines the athletic department. Major corrective measures include hiring a compliance officer for athletics and the appointment of an independent athletics integrity monitor for a five-year period.
The Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors announced its sanctions for Penn State less than an hour after the NCAA’s news conference ended. Conference sanctions include censure, five years’ probation, postseason ineligibility and forfeiture of shared conference bowl revenues. The bowl money allotted to Penn State, estimated at $12 million, will be donated to charities in Big Ten communities dedicated to the protection of children.
“This isn’t a proud moment for the conference,” University of Iowa President Sally Mason said.
The sanctions and corrective measures represent the first major NCAA penalties levied against Penn State’s football program.
“They were worse than what I expected,” said alumnus William Earley, a former university booster and Wall Street executive. “I didn’t believe they would be this severe.
“Are they deserved? Probably. What it does is that it hurts people who didn’t play a part of it. It’s an institutional problem. At most companies, if the CFO makes a bad decision, the employees pay. That’s the hierarchy of how things work.”
Emmert and Ray announced the sanctions at the organization’s downtown Indianapolis headquarters, which are less than a half-mile from Lucas Oil Stadium, the site of this year’s Big Ten title game.
The news conference was broadcasted live nationally by multiple media outlets and the NCAA ruling will likely further damage the legacies of Paterno, Curley and Spanier, a trio who once yielded significant power in college athletics.
“It’s as damaging as any set of actions that I have been involved with in my 33 years as a commissioner,” Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said. “I accept that as fact. But I also believe there’s an opportunity and hope for redemption, improvement and resilience. I believe the dead for dark ends as the morning comes.”
Guy Cipriano can be reached at 231-4643. Follow him on Twitter @cdtguy