Penn State head: "Heavy" sanctions better than alternative

Penn State President Rodney Erickson with CBS News' Bob Schieffer, in an interviewed aired on "Face the Nation" Sunday, July 29, 2012.
CBS News

(CBS News) Penn State President Rodney Erickson said he had no choice but to accept the NCAA sanctions imposed for the child sex abuse scandal, which he called "very heavy."

"I was faced with a very, very difficult choice. It was made clear to me and to our legal team very early on in the week that we really had a choice, which was multiple years of the death penalty (the loss of the football program) or the sanctions," Erickson said Sunday on "Face the Nation."

"Given the two alternatives, I felt that it was best to accept the consent decree. This allows us to continue to go on playing football, it allows us to go on helping to support the other intercollegiate athletic teams that we have at the University," he said. "The choice that I made really allows us to move forward."

According to Erickson, the $60 million fine slapped on Penn State by the NCAA will be paid for from the football program's reserves or a loan to the athletic department by the university.

Erickson said Penn State is "adequately covered" in the instance of lawsuits relating to Jerry Sandusky's child abuse.

He said, though, "We don't want to, if at all possible, drag victims through another round of court cases and litigation. If we can come to an agreement with them, with their attorneys, we believe that would be the best possible outcome in this whole very, very difficult, tragic situation."

The Penn State President, who said he is confident that he will be able to keep his job, said the scandal made him realize that the football program and other athletic programs were "not sufficiently wrapped into the rest of the university," which Erickson said they are looking into.

Erickson also discussed the legacy of head coach Joe Paterno, which he said was "very important" to Penn State.

"From my standpoint, I see the coach's contributions to the educational life of the University, and that's one of the reasons that I said I felt strongly that the Paterno name should stay on our library," Erickson said. "And nothing will change that part of Coach Paterno's legacy."

Erickson, however, said he ordered the statue of Paterno to be taken down because it had become "a lightning rod... for the controversy that has erupted over the past eight months. And I felt that it was a kind of open wound for the victims of child abuse across the nation, and in that respect, I thought it should be removed."

Erickson said the university wants to tell the children who were molested that they are "deeply sorry and sad" and "regretful."

"We want to do the right thing, we want to help them in their healing process, but we also want to make sure that Penn State becomes a national leader in this whole area of child abuse prevention and treatment," he added. "And of course the $60 million fine will go into an endowment, the proceeds of which will be used to assist in the prevention and treatment of abuse."

"Our children are our most important assets. I think another lesson to be learned is one of accountability, accountability of the moment. We need to make sure that everyone, regardless of their position or standing, is held accountable for actions that they take. We need to make sure that all of the units across the University are really interacting and sharing information," Erickson said.

Erickson said he was "horrified" at the grand jury's statement last year. "And the first question that came to my mind is how could something like this have happened at a place that I thought I knew after 35 years quite well?

"How much of it is simply due to human frailty, and not willing to step forward when they see something terrible happening? And again, it's accountability of the moment. So we need to, every one of us - even though we don't have clear answers to that - needs to reach into our own hearts and think about that issue very deeply. And going forward, we can't change the past, but we can look to the future. And we can hold ourselves accountable to our, not just to our children, but to all aspects of the world we interact with," Erikson said.

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