NCAA president: 'Death' penalty for Penn St. would have been too lenient

Posted: July 25, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS - When attempting to sort through the punishment for Penn State in the Jerry Sandusky scandal, the NCAA didn't apply the "death penalty" for one simple reason - it would not have been severe enough, NCAA president Mark Emmert said.

The death penalty was invoked in 1987, when Southern Methodist University's football program was suspended for the season and received other sanctions, such as scholarship limits and bowl bans. (SMU decided to also sit out the 1988 season.)

"I think one of the mischaracterizations out there is these penalties are coming instead of the death penalty," Emmert said during Monday's news conference at NCAA headquarters. "That is a false assumption."

The death penalty, Emmert said, would have been far too lenient.

"If the death penalty were to be imposed, the executive committee and I would not have agreed to just the death penalty," he said. "We would have included other penalties as well."

Emmert was asked whether the death penalty was not imposed because it would have punished Penn State's opponents.

"I wouldn't want to emphasize that particular point," he said. "When you think of suspension of play, it's not just about the opponent, it's about the band, all the people involved in athletic events, all people making a living around athletic events. . . . One of the considerations was the collateral damage on the innocent."

Of course, there are many innocent people associated with the football program, such as the current players. They will indirectly be hurt, even though they will be able to transfer and become immediately eligible.

Emmert has heard that argument, but he remains firm in his belief that the appropriate punishment was delivered.

He wouldn't answer when asked whether he believed the sanctions, which include a $60 million fine, scholarship reductions, and a four-year bowl ban, were more severe than the death penalty.

"I will leave those kinds of judgments all to you," he said. "Obviously these are very serious sanctions."

While there will be a long debate over whether the sanctions were too harsh, one thing all sides will agree on is Emmert's assessment of the effect they will have on Penn State.

"This will certainly have a significant impact on the university," he said.

All one has to do is look at Southern Methodist University to see how difficult it has been to survive the death penalty. Before 1987, SMU had seven consecutive winning seasons.

Since restarting its football program in 1989, the Mustangs have had three seasons above .500, and two of those came in the last three years.

Contact Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225 or

Follow @sjnard on Twitter.

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