STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
And now let's get the latest from State College, Pennsylvania, home of the Penn State football program and, of course, a terrible scandal. In the pre-dawn hours yesterday, the university removed the larger-than-life statue of the late head coach, Joe Paterno. This morning, the NCAA will announce punitive sanctions against the university, following the release of a devastating report. That report found that Paterno and other university leaders failed to aggressively pursue allegations that an assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, had sexually abused children.
NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman is on the line.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: Why take down the statue now?
GOLDMAN: The statue had become a real flashpoint and a lightning rod for the debate over Joe Paterno, in particular. And Penn State president Rodney Erickson said in a statement yesterday, he said, the Paterno statue has become a source of division and obstacle to healing. He said: I decided in the best interest of the university and public safety to remove it and store it in a secure location. If it remained, Erickson went on to say, it would be a recurring wound to the multitude of individuals across the nation and beyond who've been victims of child abuse.
INSKEEP: I suppose we should mention that the library at Penn State is named after Joe Paterno.
GOLDMAN: Yeah. And that's an interesting point, Steve. President Erickson decided to leave that intact. And he said in that statement the Paterno library symbolizes substantial and lasting contributions to academic life and educational excellence that the Paterno family has made to Penn State.
So it's a compromise. And, you know, obviously, taking down the statue, as President Erickson said, means that they take seriously the conclusions of the Freeh report, which was released 11 days ago.
INSKEEP: But it's looking like just removing a statue is not the only penalty, the only punishment that could be store here. What range of penalties could the NCAA impose?
GOLDMAN: Right. You know, Steve, we don't know any details now. The announcement is coming at 9 a.m. Eastern time today, and we will cover that. Mark Emmert, the president of the NCAA, and Ed Ray, who's the chairman of the NCAA executive committee and the president of Oregon State University, they'll hold a press conference. All they've said is that, as you mentioned earlier, that they will levy corrective and punitive measures.
In an interview last week on PBS, Emmert called it egregious behavior by Penn State, what was detailed in the Freeh report about top leadership, you know, covering up Sandusky's actions for at least 14 years. He did not, in that interview, rule out the death penalty, the harshest sanction: shutting down a sports program for one to two years.
CBS News is reporting that the penalties will be unprecedented - which, Steve, fits, because an NCAA official told me that the NCAA considers this scandal unprecedented.
INSKEEP: Well, ordinarily, the violations that the NCAA gets involved with seem almost minor in comparison to this. Normally, they're talking about recruiting violations and that sort of thing.
GOLDMAN: Yeah, absolutely right. I think in this case, the NCAA oversees college athletics. And the violations by Sandusky allegedly happened in and around the football program. Also, the NCAA can impose penalties when a university in general doesn't properly control its athletic programs, this phrase called the lack of institutional control. And that can be argued that that happened in Penn State's case.
INSKEEP: OK. So under what conditions in the past has the NCAA imposed the death penalty on a program?
GOLDMAN: Yeah. You know, the most notably one was against the Southern Methodist University football team in the late '80s. And the death penalty has always come down for what they call repeat offenders, schools who do something, are told not to do it, and they keep doing it. And that's what happened in SMU's case. That's the most well-known case.
And it was devastating. It turned out that SMU didn't play football for a couple of years. After that, they lost tons of scholarships. It battered SMU's reputation. They didn't get to a bowl game for another 20 years after they lost those two seasons. So it has a very crippling effect.
And if that is the punishment with Penn State, there are those who say it would have a similarly crippling effect on recruiting of athletes, obviously, but also a negative effect on admissions and fundraising and just, you know, psychically devastating to the people of State College and the surrounding areas not to have Saturday football. But, of course, we have to remember it has been quite psychically devastating to have this scandal take place.
INSKEEP: Ok. That's NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Tom, thanks very much.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.