STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Penn State said Tuesday it will respond within days to the NCAA’s demand for information as the governing body decides whether the university should face penalties – including a possible shutdown of its storied football program – in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
Penn State President Rodney Erickson said he doesn’t want to “jump to conclusions” about possible sanctions after the head of the NCAA declared the so-called death penalty has not been ruled out.
The NCAA is investigating whether Penn State lost “institutional control” over its athletic program and violated ethics rules. The probe had been on hold for eight months while former FBI Director Louis Freeh conducted an investigation on behalf of the school’s board of trustees. Freeh’s 267-page report, released last week, asserted that late football coach Joe Paterno and three top officials buried allegations against Sandusky, his retired defensive coordinator, more than a decade ago to protect the university’s image.
Sandusky was convicted last month of sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period. He awaits sentencing.
Penn State, with the results of its own investigation in hand, can turn its attention to the NCAA, Erickson said.
“The NCAA has indicated that they’d like me to respond … as quickly as possible now that we have the Freeh report,” he said. “So we’ve already started the process of starting to compose that response. We’ll do so over the course of the next few days and get that response back as soon as possible, and we’ll then engage in discussions with the NCAA.”
In a PBS interview Monday night, NCAA President Mark Emmert said he’s “never seen anything as egregious as this in terms of just overall conduct and behavior inside a university.” He said he doesn’t want to take “anything off the table” if there’s a finding that Penn State violated NCAA rules.
The last time the NCAA shut down a football program was in the 1980s, when Southern Methodist University was forced to drop the sport because of extra benefits violations. After the NCAA suspended the SMU program for a year, the school decided not to play in 1988, either, as it tried to regroup.
Erickson would not say whether he thought Penn State deserved to have its football program yanked.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here,” Erickson told The Associated Press as he conducted a round of media interviews in his office on Tuesday. “Let’s wait for this process to unfold. President Emmert has said that the NCAA will take a deliberate and deliberative process in addressing this, so I don’t think we should jump to any conclusions at this point.”
Schools often propose sanctions to the governing body. Erickson pointed out that Penn State has already given $2.6 million in bowl revenues to its new center for child abuse research and treatment and to the Pennsylvania Coalition against Rape, a group that operates rape crisis centers across the state.
“We’ve already started to impose sanctions in the sense that we took away $2.6 million of athletic department funds,” Erickson said. “Surely we’ll have to do more, but we’re already on that road.”
Erickson also addressed the controversy swirling around the statue of Paterno outside Beaver Stadium, saying that no decision has been made on whether to take it down. The bronze statue had been a rallying point for students in the months since Sandusky’s November arrest.
“I’m still in the process of talking with members of my leadership team,” Erickson said. “I’ll want to talk with members of the board and others. And we will make a decision, and we will make the right decision based on what we believe is the best course of action for the university.”
University spokesman David La Torre said a decision on the matter would be made in seven to 10 days.
Regardless of Penn State’s decision on the statue, it’s clear that Paterno’s name is losing its luster.
Paternoville, a tent city outside Beaver Stadium where students camp out for prime football tickets, was scrapped Monday in favor of Nittanyville. Brown University, the late coach’s alma mater, said that not only had it removed Paterno’s name from its head football coaching position and a student award, but it’s also reviewing whether to remove him from the school’s athletic hall of fame, too.
Nike took Paterno’s name off a child care center on its corporate campus on Thursday, the day the Freeh report was released. The halo that had floated above Paterno’s head in a State College mural was removed Saturday. In its place the artist added a blue ribbon in support of child abuse awareness.
And a Connecticut middle school said it would paint over its own mural of Paterno.
Although there was some negative reaction to Paterno immediately after Sandusky’s arrest – the Big Ten dropped Paterno’s name from the conference championship trophy where it had been next to that of Amos Alonzo Stagg, who won almost 100 fewer games – the pace has picked up since the Freeh report was released.
The Paterno statue, in particular, has been a point of much contention. Critics have called for the sculpture to be taken down after the Freeh report concluded that Paterno was aware of a 1998 allegations against Sandusky – in contrast to his grand jury testimony and an interview given after his firing – and that he was involved in the decision to hide a 2001 incident from the authorities.
On Tuesday, a small plane pulled a banner over State College reading, “Take the statue down or we will.” The plane is licensed to Air America Aerial Ads of Genoa, Ohio. A person who answered the phone at Air America declined to give his name or identify who paid for the flight.
Federal Aviation Administration records show the agency grounded a plane from the company after it towed banners taunting Tiger Woods during the 2010 Masters golf tournament.
The Freeh report raised the culpability of Paterno and former university President Graham Spanier to the same level as two other key figures: former Vice President Gary Schultz and athletic director Tim Curley.
Schultz and Curley await trial on charges of perjury and failure to report suspected child abuse. They deny the allegations against them.
Spanier is not charged, and his attorneys have criticized the Freeh report, saying it contains inaccuracies. Paterno’s family denies he participated in any attempt at a cover-up.
Erickson, who pledged greater transparency after he was named Spanier’s successor, called the past eight months “the most difficult and saddest chapter in the university’s history” but vowed to make it right.
“We can’t rewrite that chapter in terms of what happened in the past, but we are taking responsibility for what happened,” he continued. “We’re determined to emerge from all of this as a stronger, better university.”
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