Using forceful, unwavering language, NCAA president Mark Emmert and executive committee chair Dr. Edward Ray changed the course of Penn State and Big Ten football for decades Monday morning with the release of stunning penalties against the Nittany Lions football program.
The sanctions, leveled after school administrators and former head coach Joe Paterno were found to have covered up child sexual abuse by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, will likely decimate a Penn State program that shares a spot in the Big Ten Leaders Division with Ohio State – and could soon bolster rosters across the league.
Citing “an athletic culture that went horribly awry,” Emmert announced penalties including a $60 million fine on the university, representing one year’s football revenue; no bowls or postseason play for four years; a vacation of all wins from 1998-2011; and a major reduction in scholarships that will limit Penn State to 15 scholarships per year and 65 total for four years.
In other words, Penn State is ineligible for the Big Ten title until 2016, and players currently on the team either can stay and see their scholarships honored (whether they play or not) or move on to other schools without having to sit out a season.
In a conference call Monday morning, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany indicated that while the league does not yet have a policy set in stone, it would likely follow the NCAA's lead in allowing players to transfer from Penn State to another conference school without penalty.
In addition, all incoming student-athletes have been released from their national letters of intent and permission to contact rules have been loosened for current players.
The NCAA also noted it is considering decreeing that any Penn State player leaving now will not count against a school's scholarship limit this year but will going forward.
As an NCAA release stated, "Additionally, the NCAA is considering waiving scholarship limits for programs to which these football student-athletes transfer, provided they reduce proportionately in the next year. For example, the limit is 25 new scholarships per year to a total of 85 scholarships. If the limits are waived in 2012-13 to accommodate one Penn State student-athlete who wishes to transfer to a particular school already at the limits, in 2013-14 the school will be limited to 24 new scholarships and 84 total scholarships."
Looking forward in recruiting, Penn State lost a commitment from Avon, Ohio, class of 2013 cornerback Ross Douglas on Monday morning, and more defections – such as those that led a slew of former PSU commits to switch to Ohio State last winter – seem sure to follow.
The result will surely cripple the Penn State program and severely hurt the Big Ten, which already has power Ohio State banned from a bowl in 2012. But the NCAA higher-ups did not have that in mind while announcing the penalties, with Emmert stating the penalties show that “hero worship and winning at all costs” will not stand in collegiate athletics.
“Penn State can work on rebuilding its athletic culture without worrying about going to a bowl game,” Emmert said.
The NCAA president said the sanctions are necessary and cut to the core of the NCAA constitution, which insists that athletic programs “provide positive moral models for our students, enhance the integrity of higher education and promote the value of civility, honesty and responsibility.”
Some wondered if the NCAA had the ability to quickly impose these penalties – particularly given the body’s famously slow investigations in the past – but both Emmert and Ray said there were plenty of reasons to get involved.
Emmert pointed to the criminal trial, at which Sandusky was found guilty of 45 counts of child sexual abuse including some in Penn State football facilities, and the release of the Freeh Report as providing extensive information about the case.
The Freeh Report, the Penn State-sponsored investigation into the actions of its top administrators, found that president Graham Spanier and others knew of Sandusky’s indiscretions but did not tell authorities or do anything to prevent him from finding new victims.
Penn State as an institution agreed with the content of the report, and the school will not appeal the NCAA ruling. Ray stated that the presidents and chancellors he talked to were unanimous in stating immediate action was needed.
“Not only does the NCAA have the authority to act in this case, we also have the responsibility to say that such egregious behavior is not only against our bylaws and constitution but also against our value system and basic human decency,” said Ray, the president at Oregon State.
The Big Ten also announced penalties Monday morning that included a censuring of the institution, ineligibility from the league title game for the next four years and a fine. Penn State will not be able to receive its share of league bowl funds while it is ineligible for postseason play, a share of about $13 million that will go to charitable organizations dedicated to the protection of children.
"The accepted findings support the conclusion that our colleagues at Penn State, individuals that we have known and with whom we have worked for many years, have egregiously failed on many levels—morally, ethically and potentially criminally," the league said in announcing the censure. "They have failed their great university, their faculty and staff, their students and alumni, their community and state—and they have failed their fellow member institutions in the Big Ten Conference. For these failures, committed at the highest level of the institution, we hereby condemn this conduct and officially censure Penn State."
However, the Big Ten made it clear it will not be kicking the Nittany Lions out of the league.
"Penn State University is a great institution and has been a valued member of the Big Ten Conference for more than 20 years," the statement said. "Since early November 2011, it has been working very hard to right a terrible wrong. There is more to be done. The intent of the sanctions imposed today is not to destroy a great university, but rather to seek justice and constructively assist a member institution with its efforts to reform. From this day forward, as Penn State continues to make amends, the Big Ten conference and its member institutions will continue to engage with them in every aspect of conference membership."
Delany also noted that the league will not look into expansion as a result of today's announcement.