Penn State: Death penalty was a threat

Posted: July 25, 2012

Penn State's president agreed to the severe sanctions announced Monday by the NCAA because he feared other, far worse options - namely, the shutdown of the football program altogether, often called the death penalty.

University spokesman David La Torre said Monday that president Rodney Erickson made a choice he felt would allow the program to survive.

"It was clear Penn State faced an alternative - a long-term death penalty and additional sanctions for the program, university and whole community," La Torre said. "Given the situation, Dr. Erickson believed the sanctions offered and accepted was the appropriate course of action."

The threat was no football for several years, a punishment far harsher than the unprecedented one-year ban imposed on Southern Methodist University in 1987, Erickson told ESPN.

"Various numbers were tossed around, four being the highest," Erickson told the cable sports network's John Barr, calling such a fate "traumatic for everyone. It's traumatic for the student-athletes involved. It's traumatic for the university."

The NCAA tells another story. "I can tell you categorically, there was never a threat made to anyone about suspension of play if the consent decree was not agreed to," Ed Ray, chairman of the NCAA's executive committee, told the network.

The option was discussed, he conceded: "There were people who felt that was appropriate, but the overwhelming position of members of both the executive committee and the Division I board was to not include suspension of play."

But Penn State officials apparently had a different impression.

"I think, generally speaking, that the community felt that playing was better than not playing," said Karen Peetz, chairwoman of the board of trustees, during a Centre Daily Times interview that included interim athletic director David Joyner.

In that interview, Erickson also said, "I thought we'll be able to recover more quickly from these sanctions than we would from the death penalty over the course of a number of years."

The penalties imposed Monday included paying $60 million to fund a five-year anti-child-abuse program; a ban on bowl games for four years; the loss of 40 scholarships; and the erasing of all football team victories from 1998 to 2011.

"This, while severe, does still allow us to play," Erickson said in the newspaper interview.

The football program generated about $70 million for the 2011 season alone, according to reports.

The sanctions were handed down after a university-initiated report alleged official mishandling of accusations of child sex abuse by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.

Sandusky was convicted last month of dozens of charges, including involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, unlawful contact with minors, indecent assault, corruption of minors, and endangering the welfare of children.

Sentencing is scheduled for late September.

Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or

Staff writers Jeremy Roebuck and Susan Snyder contributed to this report.

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