STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- A potential exodus of star athletes. No hope of playing in the postseason. More than a decade of accomplishments erased from the record books. And coach Joe Paterno's legacy in shreds.
Penn State football, a longtime powerhouse that was once one of the cleanest, most admired programs in college sports, escaped the so-called death penalty from the NCAA on Monday but was dealt a heavy blow that will cripple it for years to come.
The university agreed to an unprecedented $60 million fine, a four-year ban from postseason play and a cut in the number of football scholarships it can award -- the price it will pay for having looked the other way while former defensive coordinator and longtime assistant coach Jerry Sandusky brought boys onto campus and molested them.
The NCAA also erased 14 years of victories, wiping out 111 of Paterno's wins -- plus one victory after he was fired -- and stripping him of his standing as the most successful coach in the history of big-time college football.
"Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people," NCAA president Mark Emmert declared.
Penn State spokesman David La Torre said university president Rodney Erickson had no choice but to acquiesce, given the threat of a total shutdown of the football program.
"It was clear Penn State faced an alternative -- a long-term death penalty and additional sanctions for the program, university and whole community. Given the situation, he believed the sanctions offered and accepted was the appropriate and course of action," La Torre said.
At a student union on campus, several dozen alumni and students gasped, groaned and whistled as they watched Emmert's news conference. The news was a crushing blow to many students.
Nicole Lord, a senior, questioned why Penn State's student body, and especially its athletes, should be punished "for the wrongs of three men and a monster."
"They keep breaking our hearts and breaking our hearts and breaking our hearts," she said.
Sandusky was found guilty in June of sexually abusing 10 boys over 15 years, sometimes on campus. An investigation commissioned by the school and released July 12 found that Paterno, who died of lung cancer in January at age 85, and three other top officials at Penn State concealed accusations against Sandusky for fear of bad publicity.
The NCAA's punishment came a day after the school took down a statue of Paterno that stood outside of Beaver Stadium.
Paterno's family said in a statement that the sanctions "defame the legacy and contributions of a great coach and educator."
"This is not a fair or thoughtful action; it is a panicked response to the public's understandable revulsion at what Sandusky did," the family said.
Emmert said the penalties reflect "the magnitude of these terrible acts" and also "ensure that Penn State will rebuild an athletic culture that went horribly awry."
He said the NCAA considered imposing the death penalty, or a complete shutdown of football for a season or more, but worried about the collateral damage.
"Suspension of the football program would bring with it significant unintended harm to many who had nothing to do with this case," Emmert said. "The sanctions we have crafted are more focused and impactful than that blanket penalty."
A drop-off in attendance and revenue could damage both the university, where the football team is a moneymaker that subsidizes other sports, and much of central Pennsylvania, where Penn State football is an important part of the economy.
The sanctions will make it difficult for the Nittany Lions to compete at the sport's highest level. Raising the specter of an exodus of athletes, the NCAA said current or incoming football players are free to immediately transfer and compete at another school.
First-year coach Bill O'Brien, who was hired from the NFL's New England Patriots to replace Paterno, will have the task of trying to keep players from fleeing the program while luring new recruits.
"I knew when I accepted the position that there would be tough times ahead," O'Brien said.