Sanctions met with silence at PSU

Originally Published: July 23, 2012
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The darkest day in Penn State's history was met with mostly silence on campus.

After the NCAA fined Penn State a whopping $60 million, stripped its football program of 40 scholarships and banned it from playing in a bowl game the next four seasons because of its inaction in the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal, the Nittany Lions were apparently too stunned to react to the devastating news.

[+] EnlargeMatt McGloin
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarQuarterback Matt McGloin and his teammates were instructed to not comment on the sanctions.

Penn State coach Bill O'Brien and his assistants didn't talk to the media Monday, and the school reportedly instructed its football players to avoid comment as well.

Penn State president Rodney Erickson, acting athletics director Dave Joyner and Board of Trustees chairman Karen Peetz granted interviews to a few media outlets, including ESPN, but otherwise the Nittany Lions bit their tongues on the day the NCAA hammered them.

"It's very devastating, there's no question about it," Erickson told ESPN's John Barr on Monday.

As NCAA president Mark Emmert announced the unprecedented penalties during a news conference in Indianapolis at 9 a.m. ET Monday, a crowd of about 50 students, faculty and alumni gathered in front of a large-screen TV at Penn State's HUB student center to watch. The severe sanctions, which figure to cripple the Nittany Lions' once-proud football program for at least the next several seasons, were met with both surprise and disbelief.

Penn State's current football players were called to a 10 a.m. ET team meeting at the Lasch Football Building. When the players left the building, most of them were talking on cell phones and didn't respond to reporters' questions.

Joyner told ESPN he became aware of the severity of the NCAA sanctions several days ago and delivered the devastating news to O'Brien on Sunday. O'Brien, a former New England Patriots offensive coordinator, was hired in January to replace legendary Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno. Paterno was fired in November after 46 seasons at the school because the school said he didn't do enough to stop Sandusky's horrific actions.

"It was not unexpected, but the degree perhaps was," Joyner said. "[O'Brien's] immediate reaction was, 'Well, let's get going. I'm here. I came here knowing something like this could happen, and I committed myself to Penn State and I remain committed to Penn State and the educational values of the student-athletes.' He buckled it up and wanted to get going right away."

O'Brien doesn't have much of a choice other than to remain with the Nittany Lions. According to his contract with Penn State, which will play him $950,000 this season, he can't leave the school without paying a $4 million buyout penalty.

"There are things in everybody's contract that obviously allows people to leave," Joyner said. "He wasn't even interested in talking about it. He brought it up and said, 'I don't even want to discuss it. I want to be here and I want to be here for the long haul.'"

Penn State's road to recovery figures to be long and arduous. Under the penalties handed down by the NCAA, the Nittany Lions' allotment of initial scholarships will be reduced from 25 to 15 during each of the next four seasons. Beginning in 2014, Penn State can have only 65 scholarship players until the 2017 season, 20 fewer than what is allowed for FBS schools under NCAA rules.

And the NCAA will allow current Penn State players and incoming freshmen to transfer to another FBS school without penalty, creating an open market for other schools and the Nittany Lions' best players.

[+] EnlargePenn State
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarThere weren't demonstrations, but Penn State fans found ways to show their support for the team.

"One player said today that the hotter the fire, the stronger the steel," Joyner said. "I think that's the kind of young men that are going to want to be here and want to stay here."

After the NCAA's sanctions were announced, there was very little reaction on campus. Most students will not return to Penn State for classes for another month, and most of the people on campus Monday were prospective students and their parents, who were taking campus tours.

At the former site of the Paterno statue, which was removed by school officials on Sunday morning, a few Penn State fans gathered to look at the spot where the legendary coach's likeness once stood outside Beaver Stadium. Someone even posted a missing sign for the statue on a chain-link fence that blocked the area.

"I think his legacy is really going to be a lot of different legacies," Erickson said. "I think people will view Joe Paterno in hindsight through many different lenses."

Erickson said he ordered the statue removed because it was an "open wound for the victims of child abuse across the country and beyond." Erickson also said he feared the statue would become a source of increasing disturbances because of the controversy surrounding its presence outside the stadium. Erickson said Penn State officials recently received a threat from an individual who said he would shoot it down.

"I thought, as tempers flared and escalated, it was a concern," Erickson said. "Of course, when football games were played there, it would become a place where people -- with very different viewpoints of what the statue stood for -- would be. And possibly in a confrontational kind of way."

As part of the NCAA penalties, Penn State was ordered to vacate its 112 football victories from 1998 to 2011. Paterno, who died of lung cancer in January, retired as the sport's all-time winningest coach with 409 career victories. After the Nittany Lions vacated the victories, he now stands fifth among major college football coaches with 298 wins.

Erasing Paterno's name from the record books is only one of the ways Penn State will try to move forward from the worst scandal in college sports history.

"I think [the penalties] are very severe," Erickson said. "They're the most serious ever handed down by the NCAA in this kind of situation. Certainly, it does reflect the fact that we have accepted responsibility for the shortcomings that were identified in the Freeh report, as well as saying, 'OK, we're going to turn the page and we're going to go on to the next chapter at Penn State, now knowing what we have to do.' As I've been saying for the last eight and a half months, we're going to go forward and we're going to drive ahead, but we're going to keep our eye on the rearview mirror, both to make sure nothing like this ever happens again and also to honor the victims and do the right thing for the victims."

Mark Schlabach | email

College Football and Basketball