The NCAA socked Pennsylvania State University on Monday with a $60-million fine and four-year bowl ban for its role in concealing child-sex crimes by a former Nittany Lions football coach.
The penalties, which also include a sharp reduction in scholarships and the vacating of football victories from 1998 to 2011, stopped short of suspending the program. But the punishment is likely to cripple Penn State's powerful football team for years.
The moves, announced by Mark Emmert, the NCAA's president, were intended to reflect the magnitude of crimes committed by Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State coach convicted last month on 45 counts of molesting children, as well as the university's concealment of his abuses, detailed in an independent report released this month.
Although no punishment could change the harm done to Mr. Sandusky's victims, Mr. Emmert said, "the culture, actions, and inaction that allowed them to be victimized will not be tolerated in collegiate athletics."
"One of the grave dangers stemming from our love of sports is that sports themselves can become too big to fail—too big to even challenge," he said in a televised news conference in Indianapolis. One goal of the penalties was to make sure that "football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing, and protecting young people."
The $60-million fine equals one year's gross revenue from the university's football program. The money must be placed in an endowment for programs that work to prevent child sexual abuse and cannot benefit any programs at the university.
Ed Ray, president of Oregon State University and chairman of the NCAA's Executive Committee, said the events at Penn State, and the sanctions handed down on Monday, should "serve as a wake-up call to everyone involved in college sports that our first responsibility ... is to adhere to the fundamental values of respect, fairness, civility, honesty, and responsibility."
The NCAA's moves were approved with the unanimous support of its Executive Committee and Division I Board of Directors. They sent a signal that college leaders have "had enough," Mr. Ray said, referring to the win-at-all-costs mentality in some programs. "This has to stop."
"The message," he said, "is the presidents and chancellors are in charge."
The NCAA traditionally takes far longer to issue penalties stemming from violations of its rule book. Normally, the NCAA's enforcement staff investigates potential violations, gives programs an opportunity to respond to any allegations, and allows institutions to appear before a judiciary panel before handing down any punitive measures.
Failure of Leadership
This was an extraordinary case, Mr. Emmert said, resulting in blunders that were more egregious than anything the NCAA had ever seen. It involved a failure of leadership to value and uphold institutional integrity, the NCAA said, resulting in a breach of the association's rules.
The NCAA's Executive Committee and its Division I Board of Directors asked Mr. Emmert to examine the circumstances surrounding the scandal and make recommendations about possible punitive measures—in essence, side-stepping the association's drawn-out procedures.
Penn State said in a statement that it had agreed to the NCAA's penalties. But some observers worry that the process the NCAA used here may give its president unusually broad powers in future cases.
"This raises the question of whether the NCAA president is going to assume the role of the Committee on Infractions," said David Swank, a professor of law at the University of Oklahoma and a former chair of the NCAA's Division I Committee on Infractions. "That is of some concern, given the type of process that this follows."
Deviating from their standard procedures has gotten some institutions in trouble in the courts, said Sheldon E. Steinbach, a higher-education lawyer who follows college-sports issues closely.
"One could argue, quite effectively," he said, "that the policies and procedures in penalizing Penn State deviate from anything that has been written or executed in the past, and are subject to challenge on due-process grounds."
Robin J. Harris, executive director of the Council of Ivy League Presidents, said she understood the desire for strong and swift action in this instance, but found it of concern not knowing how the NCAA might handle future cases.
"Is this power going to be used more frequently?" she said. "We certainly hope we won't see situations like this, but in some respects there are a lot of unique NCAA cases.
"At what point does this authorize the president to act in future cases, will he need that authority in the future, and will there be parameters in place for determining when that authority is needed?," added Ms. Harris, a former co-chair of the college-sports practice at Ice Miller, where she represented colleges in NCAA-infractions cases.
Mr. Emmert shot down the idea that this case would necessarily lead to a continued extension of his powers.
"I don't see it opening up Pandora's box at all," he said in the news conference. "This is a very unique circumstance."
As part of the NCAA's penalties, Penn State will lose 10 initial football scholarships for new students, beginning in 2013-14. Its total football scholarships will be reduced from 85 to 65 over the next four years, beginning in 2014-15.
In addition, the NCAA placed Penn State on probation for five years and is requiring the university to adopt a variety of changes to ensure it maintains proper control over athletics. Those steps include paying for an independent "athletic integrity monitor" who must make quarterly reports to the NCAA, the university's Board of Trustees, and the Big Ten Conference about the university's progress in cleaning up its program.
The Big Ten also issued a separate set of penalties on Monday, including formally censuring the university and withholding payouts from the years in which Penn State cannot participate in bowls. That increases the financial hit by another $13-million.