The scholarship reductions mean Penn State's roster will be capped at 65 scholarship players beginning in 2014. The normal scholarship limit for major college football programs is 85. Playing with 20 less is devastating to a program that tries to compete at the highest level of the sport.
In comparison, the harsh NCAA sanctions placed upon USC several years ago left the Trojans with only 75 scholarships per year over a three-year period.
The postseason ban is the longest handed out by the NCAA since it gave a four-year ban to Indiana football in 1960.
Bill O'Brien, who was hired to replace Paterno, now faces the daunting task of building future teams with severe limitations, and trying to keep current players from fleeing to other schools. Star players such as tailback Silas Redd and linebacker Gerald Hodges are now essentially free agents.
"I knew when I accepted the position that there would be tough times ahead," O'Brien said. "But I am committed for the long term to Penn State and our student athletes."
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said that players will likely be allowed to transfer within the conference, something that is usually restricted. The possible exodus isn't confined to just the next few months. Penn State players currently on the roster are free to transfer without restrictions for the length of their careers.
Penn State players left a team meeting on campus in State College, Pa., without talking to reporters. Penn State's season starts Sept. 1 at home against Ohio University.
The sanctions came a day after the school took down a statue of Paterno that stood outside Beaver Stadium and was a rallying point for the coaches' supporters throughout the scandal.
At a student union on campus, several dozen alumni and students gasped, groaned and whistled as they watched Emmert's news conference.
"It was kind of just like a head shaker," said Matt Bray, an 18-year-old freshman from West Chester, Pa. "You knew it was coming, but it was hard to hear."
Emmert had earlier said he had "never seen anything as egregious" as the horrific crimes of Sandusky and the cover-up by Paterno and others at the university, including former Penn State President Graham Spanier and athletic director Tim Curley.
The Penn State investigation headed by former FBI Director Louis Freeh said school officials kept what they knew from police and other authorities for years, enabling the abuse to go on.
There had been calls across the nation for Penn State to receive the "death penalty," and Emmert had not ruled out that possibility as late as last week — though Penn State did not fit the criteria for it. That punishment is for teams that commit a major violation while already being sanctioned.
"This case is obviously incredibly unprecedented in every aspect of it," Emmert said, "as are these actions that we're taking today."
Penn State football under Paterno was built on — and thrived upon — the premise that it did things the right way. That it was not a football factory where only wins and losses determined success. Every major college football program tries to send that message, but Penn State built its brand on it.
Paterno's "Grand Experiment" was about winning with integrity, graduating players and sending men into the world ready to succeed in life, not just football. But he still won a lot — a record-setting 409 victories.
The NCAA had never sanctioned, or seriously investigated Penn State. Few, if any, national powers could make that claim.
Southern California, Ohio State, Alabama, all have run afoul of the NCAA. Even Notre Dame went on probation for two years after a booster lavished gifts on players in the 1990s.
The harshest penalty handed down to a football program came in the '80s, when the NCAA shut down SMU's team for a year. SMU football has never gotten back to the level of success it had before the "death penalty."
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