STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — The NCAA announced Sunday that it will issue sanctions against Penn State in the wake of a scathing report that found that top university officials buried child sex abuse allegations against a now-convicted retired assistant and led to the tearing down of the famed statue of once-sainted coach Joe Paterno.
Shortly after Paterno’s statue was removed Sunday, six months to the day after he died, the NCAA came forward to say that it will levy “corrective and punitive measures” against the school. The sanctions will be spelled out Monday, the NCAA said without disclosing further details.
NCAA President Mark Emmert hasn’t ruled out the possibility of shutting down the Penn State football program in the wake of the scandal, saying he had “never seen anything as egregious.”
The Paterno family issued a statement saying the statue’s removal “does not serve the victims of Jerry Sandusky’s horrible crimes or help heal the Penn State community.”
“We believe the only way to help the victims is to uncover the full truth,” said the family, which vowed its own investigation following the release of an investigative report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh that found that Paterno and three other top Penn State administrators concealed sex abuse claims against Sandusky.
The family called the report “the equivalent of an indictment — a charging document written by a prosecutor — and an incomplete and unofficial one at that.”
The bronze statue, weighing more than 900 pounds, was built in 2001 in honor of Paterno’s record-setting 324th Division I coaching victory and his “contributions to the university.” Students chanted, “We are Penn State” as the statue came down.
Penn State President Rod Erickson said he decided to have the statue removed and put into storage because it “has become a source of division and an obstacle to healing.”
“I believe that, were it to remain, the statue will be a recurring wound to the multitude of individuals across the nation and beyond who have been the victims of child abuse,” Erickson said in a statement.
In Washington, a White House press secretary said President Barack Obama believed “it was the right decision.”
By many of those watching the statue’s removal stared in disbelief and at least one woman wept, while others expressed anger at the decision.
“I think it was an act of cowardice on the part of the university,” said Mary Trometter, of Williamsport, who wore a shirt bearing Paterno’s image. She said she felt betrayed by university officials, saying they promised openness but said nothing about the decision until just before the removal work began.
Dozens later gathered to watch and listen to the sound of sawing, scraping and shoveling as workers removed Paterno’s name and various plaques from the walls behind where the statue had stood. Shortly before midday, all that remained was the bare concrete and stone.
Few watching said they understood the decision and feared what kind of punishment the NCAA would pile on.
Cloresa Turner, who drove up from Martinsville, Va., to see the statue, clasped her hand over her mouth when she saw the statue was gone.
“He’s done so much for this university. It’s sad,” she said. “To wipe it all away is like he meant nothing.”
In NCAA terms, the Penn State case is stunning partly because of the swift action by the governing body for college sports. NCAA investigations on issues it normally handles, such as improper benefits, can drag on for months. But in the wake of the release of the Freeh report July 12, the NCAA has shown rare speed in moving toward the punishment phase for Penn State.
Recent major scandals such as the Reggie Bush case at the University of Southern California and players at Ohio State trading memorabilia for cash and tattoos have resulted in bowl bans and the loss of scholarships.
Current NCAA rules limit the so-called death penalty — shutting the program down completely — to colleges already on probation that commit another major violation. But NCAA leaders have indicated in recent months they are willing to use harsher penalties for the worst offenses. That includes postseason and TV bans, which haven’t been used extensively since the 1980s.
“This is completely different than an impermissible benefits scandal like (what) happened at SMU, or anything else we’ve dealt with. This is as systemic a cultural problem as it is a football problem. There have been people that said this wasn’t a football scandal,” NCAA President Mark Emmert told PBS. “It was that but much more. And we’ll have to figure out exactly what the right penalties are. I don’t know that past precedent makes particularly good sense in this case because it’s really an unprecedented problem.”
Another question hanging is whether Penn State — and, by extension, Paterno, major college football’s winningest coach — will have to vacate any victories. Paterno won 409 games for the school in his 46 seasons as head coach. USC lost a national title when it went on probation and Ohio State vacated the 2010 season, including its victory in the Sugar Bowl over Arkansas.
Kayla Weaver, a Penn State senior and member of the dance team called the Lionettes, said an NCAA death penalty would not only force the football players to transfer, but it would also force program changes for cheerleaders, dancers and band members and would hurt season ticket holders.
“It could ruin everything that we’ve built here,” said Weaver, 21, from Franklin Lakes, N.J.
On Twitter, Akeel Lynch, a running back recruit who played high school football in western New York, wrote, “I still bleed blue and white,” while quarterback Matt McGloin wrote, “The hotter the fire, the stronger the steel.”
Tight end Garry Gilliam tweeted, “No matter what happens, I’m staying at Penn State.”
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