Penn State football's future up in air

August 1999 file photo shows Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno, right, posing with his defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, in State College, Pa.
August 1999 file photo shows Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno, right, posing with his defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, in State College, Pa.

(CBS News) STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Joe Paterno's legacy is in shreds and Penn State's football program crippled after the school was hit with unprecedented penalties by the NCAA over its handling of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal.

The shock wave from the sanctions was still reverberating across campus Tuesday.

But the big question as the impact of the NCAA's damning penalties begins to sink in around Happy Valley, and around college football, is, what's next?

Complete coverage: The Penn State Scandal

Clemson head football coach Dabo Swinney says, "You hurt for all the people who had nothing to do with any of this. ... They had a lot of dreams and things that they won't be able to realize now."

Many observers believe the harsh sanctions amount to a de facto "death penalty." The NCAA's so-called "death penalty, which the school did escape, would have completely shut down the school's football program for a prescribed number of years. 

"I cannot think of a more devastating decision made by the NCAA," former Notre Dame head football coach Lou Holtz told ESPN.

Only USC's four-year probation in 2010, for violations involving unethical conduct and improper benefits in its football program, comes close to Penn State's punishment. But that post-season ban was only for two years and a total of 30 scholarships were lost.

The program the late Paterno left behind suffered much more, and its future remains up for debate.

After the sanctions were announced, current cornerback Stephon Morris tweeted: "I'm not going anywhere. We are Penn State forever.

But a Sports Illustrated cover paints a darker picture, with the ominous headline, "We were Penn State."

Rival football coach Tom O'Brien, of North Carolina State, put it succinctly when he said, "They just became a One-Double-A school."

The sanctions seemed designed to crush what NCAA President Mark Emmert called a "football first" culture gone horribly wrong.

They include five years probation, four years of no bowl games, and the loss of 40 to 80 scholarships between now and 2015, cutting the lifeline of any championship team far beyond that time frame.

But for now, it appears the team is in solidarity.

Current members walked past a gauntlet of reporters Monday without comment.

The man who replaced Paterno, former New England Patriots assistant coach Bill O'Brien, has vowed to keep his first team together.

But whether the famous football program can recover from the crippling sanctions remains to be seen.

It's already suffered its first defection: incoming freshman defensive tackle Greg Webb says he's taking his talents elsewhere.

"I didn't want to start school ... and come into a mess of trouble where people are being villainized and victimized over situations that I didn't have any control (over)," he says.

Penn State players will be allowed to transfer immediately without penalty and retain their scholarships if they maintain good academic standing.

To see Armen Keteyian's report, click on the video in the player above.