PSU community has mixed reactions to NCAA sanctions
STATE COLLEGE, Pa – The day after Joe Paterno’s statue was removed from the shadow of Beaver Stadium, members of Penn State’s football team filed out of the Lasch Building on Monday morning. They kept moving – avoiding the pack of television cameras and reporters stationed along the sidewalk – as they headed off to their cars or walked down a nearby street that leads to the housing units where most of them live. None of them talked.
About an hour earlier, the NCAA announced sweeping penalties
and corrective actions against Penn State’s football program because of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. In massive punitive measures, the NCAA fined Penn State $60 million – which will be paid in $12 million increments over five years and put into a special endowment to fund programs to detect, prevent and treat child abuse – placed the school on a five-year probationary period and a four-year postseason bowl game ban, and ordered an annual reduction of 10 scholarships over four years.
The NCAA also vacated all of the Nittany Lions' victories between 1998 and 2011. As a result, Paterno – who previously held the record for most wins by a college football coach – now ranks 12th all-time.
Additionally, the NCAA announced that current and incoming players will be allowed to transfer from Penn State immediately without losing a year of eligibility.
In a statement, school president Rodney Erickson said Penn State “accepts the penalties.”
“With today’s announcement and the action it requires of us, the university takes a significant step forward,” Erickson said. “The NCAA ruling holds the university accountable for the failure of those in power to protect children and insists that all areas of the community are held to the same high standards of honesty and integrity.
“It is important to know we are entering a new chapter at Penn State and are making necessary changes. We must create a culture in which people are not afraid to speak up, management is not compartmentalized, all are expected to demonstrate the highest ethical standards, and the operating philosophy is open, collegial and collaborative.”
In a separate statement, new head coach Bill O’Brien – who was hired in January, two months after Paterno was fired by the Board of Trustees – said he is “committed for the long term to Penn State and our student athletes.”
“Today we receive a very harsh penalty from the NCAA,” O’Brien said. “As head coach of the Nittany Lions football program, I will do everything in my power to not only comply, but help guide the university forward to become a national leader in ethics, compliance and operational excellence.”
Some of the reactions on campus weren’t quite so measured or carefully crafted. Around 9 a.m., about 100 students and some university staff members gathered in the student union to watch NCAA president Mark Emmert’s press conference. A semi-circle of people sat on the floor directly in front of a large projection television. Others kneeled or stood. One group of three girls held hands and kept their heads bowed. When Emmert began to announce the sanctions, one women covered her face and started to cry while another shouted, “Oh my God.”
“It was like a boxer – you see him getting beat down, one, two, three, four,” said Andrew Hanselman, who graduated from Penn State this spring. “We thought our football program was this shining, shimmering thing that can’t be touched. There was definitely some [idolatry] there for sure. Coach Joe losing his life, Sandusky behind bars – which we’re happy about – the statue coming down ... it’s a lot.”
While the crowd tried to make sense of what happened, a tour of prospective students was shepherded through the student union, pausing for a moment to mix with reporters and members of the State College community who seemed frozen in place. One of the tour guides was visibly upset and sobbed while two friends put their arms around her and tried to comfort the woman.
“For people to attack us as a university, I was 8 years old when a lot of this was going on,” said senior Julie Behr. “We have stood for honor and integrity. It’s so sad. We have received the brunt of the criticism, and people who had nothing to do with what happened are now being punished. The way people have talked about Penn State, they make it sound as though the people here, my friends and I, don’t care about kids. That’s not the truth. It’s so sad. It is. I can’t believe all this has happened.”E-mail John Gonzalez at firstname.lastname@example.org