Report: Penn State penalty ‘unprecedented’

Beaver Stadium’s statue.
CHRIS GARDNER/GETTY IMAGES

The National Collegiate Athletic Association will announce sanctions against Pennsylvania State University tomorrow over its handling of a sex-abuse scandal, as the school today removed a statue of former coach Joe Paterno outside its football stadium.

After a report concluded school officials attempted to cover up the scandal, the NCAA may decide to shut down the Nittany Lions football team — the so-called death penalty — Geoffrey Rapp, a sports law professor at the University of Toledo in Ohio, said in a telephone interview last week.

“The only punishment that really fits this crime is the death penalty,” Rapp said. “This ultimately is a failure at the highest level, and the death penalty really addresses the institutional culture that’s at fault in this case.”

Mark Emmert, the president of the NCAA, will detail “corrective and punitive measures” at a press conference at tomorrow, the college athletics’ governing body said in a statement.

ESPN, citing an unidentified NCAA source, said the sanctions probably will not include the death penalty. CBS News reported on its website, also citing an NCAA official it didn’t identify, the school and its football team face “unprecedented” penalties.

The Indianapolis-based NCAA has imposed the death penalty five times and only once at football’s top level.

Southern Methodist University’s football program was shut down in 1987 after it was found that 13 players received $61,000 from a slush fund provided by a booster. The Dallas-based school was unable to field a team in 1988 and had one winning record in the 20 years after it returned in 1989.

“I don’t know that past precedent makes particularly good sense in this case, because it’s really an unprecedented problem,” Emmert said in an interview with the Public Broadcasting Service’s “Tavis Smiley” program July 16. “I have never seen anything as egregious as this in terms of just overall conduct and behavior inside a university.”

Other sanctions available to the NCAA include a ban on postseason play for football or all sports and stripping the school of scholarships.

The NCAA shut down the University of Kentucky basketball team for the 1952-53 season; the basketball team at the University of Southwestern Louisiana for two seasons from 1973- 75; the men’s soccer team at Morehouse College in 2004 and 2005; and the men’s tennis program at MacMurray College for two seasons from 2005-07.

The seven-foot statue outside Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania, was removed after a report commissioned by the university by former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Louis Freeh, whose findings were made public July 12, said Paterno helped cover up child sex-abuse allegations against former assistant Jerry Sandusky.

A forklift behind blue screens about six-feet high could be seen, in pictures broadcast by ESPN this morning, taking away the statue. It will be stored in a secure location, Penn State President Rodney Erickson said today in a statement on the school’s website.

“Paterno’s statue has become a source of division and an obstacle to healing in our university and beyond,” Erickson said. “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.”
Family Objection

Paterno’s family objected to the decision to remove the bronze sculpture.

“Tearing down the statue of Joe Paterno does not serve the victims of Jerry Sandusky’s horrible crimes,” a statement from the family said.

Penn State will retain the Paterno name on the university library, which was named after the coach and his wife, Sue, in 1994, Erickson said.

The statue depicts Paterno, who won a Division I-record 409 games over 46 years, running onto the field pointing at the sky, jacket open, tie blowing to the side, like any fall Saturday afternoon at the stadium, where more than 100,000 fans regularly root for the Nittany Lions.

Sandusky, 68, who spent 31 seasons with Paterno, was convicted last month on 45 criminal counts tied to the abuse of 10 boys over a 15-year period and is awaiting sentencing. Paterno did not face criminal charges in the case.


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