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NCAA not ruling out tough sanctions on Penn State football

By David Ariosto, CNN
updated 9:06 AM EDT, Wed July 18, 2012
NCAA President Mark Emmert said he doesn't want to
NCAA President Mark Emmert said he doesn't want to "take anything off the table" regarding penalties for Penn State.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NCAA President Mark Emmert says he doesn't want to "take anything off the table"
  • Emmert, in PBS interview, says he has "never seen anything as egregious"
  • "What the appropriate penalties are ... we'll have to decide," Emmert told PBS.

(CNN) -- It's still not clear what the future holds for Nittany Lions football after a child sex abuse scandal implicated top Penn State officials and placed a former assistant coach behind bars.

That was the message from National Collegiate Athletic Association President Mark Emmert, who spoke with PBS in his first public comment on the matter during an interview broadcast Monday.

Emmert said he doesn't want to "take anything off the table" regarding NCAA-imposed penalties, adding that he'd "never seen anything as egregious as this in terms of just overall conduct and behavior inside a university."

"What the appropriate penalties are, if there are determinations of violations, we'll have to decide," he said.

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The possibility for the so-called "death penalty" -- meaning the potential cancellation of some state grants, recruiting activities and up to two football seasons -- has since drummed-up questions of whether Penn State will lose a huge revenue generator just as analysts predict a flood of lawsuits following Jerry Sandusky's conviction and a scathing internal review.

"They are going to get pounded in civil litigation," said CNN legal analyst Paul Callan, after a university-funded report blamed school officials for empowering Sandusky to continue his abuse.

The 267-page review -- led by former FBI Director Louis Freeh -- implicated ousted university president Graham Spanier, fired head coach Joe Paterno and ex-administrators Gary Schultz and Tim Curley, whose attorneys blasted the findings, calling the report a "lopsided document" that lacked access to critical witnesses.

More storms looming for Penn State in wake of Freeh report

Oral arguments for pretrial motions against Curley and Schultz are scheduled for the morning of August 16 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

The two men are charged with lying to the grand jury and failing to report child sexual attacks.

Sandusky, meanwhile, is awaiting sentencing on 45 counts of abuse.

But attorneys for Spanier said in a statement Tuesday that Freeh investigators ignored "the conclusions of a far more independent and thorough investigation of Dr. Graham Spanier conducted simultaneously by federal officials responsible for our national security."

"Dr. Spanier has for some time held a top secret security clearance in connection with his work with the federal government. This clearance required a re-review when the Sandusky matter surfaced in November," the statement said. "Federal investigators then conducted a four-month investigation of their own in which they interviewed many of the same individuals the Freeh group interviewed and other relevant individuals Freeh did not interview. At the conclusion of the investigation the government reaffirmed Dr. Spanier's clearance."

The ex president's attorneys then blasted Freeh -- who offered no comment Tuesday in response to the accusations -- for not mentioning that investigation in his report.

Read the report here (PDF)

Meanwhile, the scandal's potential for further repercussions seems to be on the minds of many in the football-dominated town of State College.

"I think it's crazy to make the students suffer," said Tierra Briscoe, a 21-year-old senior.

"What about the seniors?" she asked rhetorically. "It's unfair that they have to suffer for other people's actions."

The NCAA imposed similar sanctions against Southern Methodist University following a payments-to-athletes scandal in 1987, forcing that school to give up the following football season.

And while Paterno earned an almost cult-like following among Penn State fans during his 61 years of coaching, vestiges of his legacy have gradually disappeared after Freeh's report determined that Paterno could have done more to stop the attacks and may not have told the grand jury all that he knew.

On Tuesday, Brown University -- where in 1950 Paterno earned a English Literature degree -- approved a decision to permanently remove his name from the school's annual award for outstanding male freshman athlete, in place since 1993.

The school is also currently reviewing his status as a part of Brown's Athletic Hall of Fame, where he was inducted in 1977.

At State College, student organizers changed the name of a popular camp-out ahead of football games from "Paternoville" to "Nittanyville," while on a famous local mural, a halo painted above the image of the former head coach was removed.

Airborne banner: Take down Paterno statue

Name changes also took hold at the Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, with the firm's president announcing earlier this month that it would swap out the name of the Joe Paterno Child Development Center, a child care facility at the company's headquarters.

And while no decision has yet been made on the fate of the famous Paterno statue that stands outside Beaver Stadium, a small plane flew over campus Tuesday carrying a banner that read, "Take the Statue Down or We Will."

Others, however, continue to show support for their old coach, who died in January from lung cancer.

"I think his statute needs to remain where it is," Briscoe said. "He built up half our school, and was not only a coach. He was a philanthropist."

The school's board of trustees, whose firing of Paterno prompted student protests, also showed its support for the former coach while pledging reforms and vowing to hold the school more accountable.

Last week, the board made it made clear that it would back a lucrative retirement deal the university made with Paterno in the same month that he testified to the grand jury.

The woman who stood up to Joe Paterno

"Contracts are contracts," board of trustees chair Karen Peetz said Friday during a trustee meeting in Scranton, Pennsylvania. "And no, there's no plan to (change) that."

According to the university website, Paterno's amended contract -- which now benefits his estate -- was finalized in August 2011 and totaled $5.5 million in payouts and benefits, which included a $3 million bonus and title as head football coach emeritus if he retired at the end of the 2011 season.

The package, which was published online in April, also included a $425,000 head coach bonus, $900,000 in television and radio revenue, $250,000 in debt forgiveness, use of the university's luxury box, use of the school's hydrotherapy equipment and $1,000 monthly payment to Paterno's wife for the rest of her life, among other benefits.

Report: Penn State leaders disregarded victims, 'empowered' Sandusky

Key passages from Penn State internal review report

Opinion: Joe Paterno was a coward

CNN's Susan Candiotti contributed to this report

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