* Penn State may face other, less damaging sanctions
* Academic relations with companies not yet affected
By Ernest Scheyder
NEW YORK, July 12 (Reuters) - Penn State’s powerhouse football program could face a range of sanctions from the NCAA in the wake of a damning report about the cover-up of child sex abuse, but will likely avoid having its team temporarily suspended through the much-feared “death penalty.”
The NCAA, the governing body of U.S. college sports, said it was reviewing Thursday’s report by former FBI director Louis Freeh, who blamed Penn State officials for concealing sex abuse by Jerry Sandusky to protect the school’s reputation.
Sandusky, the team’s former defensive coach who helped make Pennsylvania State University a collegiate football giant, was convicted last month of 45 counts of child molestation and faces up to 373 years in prison.
In past sports scandals, the NCAA has issued a so-called “death penalty” - effectively suspending a program for several years. It did as much to Southern Methodist University in the late 1980s after an investigation found the school paid some of its football players.
The prevailing belief of former college coaches, sports consultants and academics is that the NCAA won’t take that step in Penn State’s case, largely because such a finding could only come if a school was a “repeat offender,” continuing the offending action after a public warning.
“The likely scenario is the NCAA will issue damning and condemning statements and call for the justice system to meet out the appropriate punishment,” said Marc Ganis, president of sports consulting firm Sportscorp Ltd.
“That would be disappointing, because the NCAA is one of those institutions that should take a stand on morality, not convenience.”
The NCAA could, however, reduce scholarships for student athletes at Penn State, prohibit the school from appearing in bowl games or having their games televised, or keep some coaches from appearing at games.
Technically, the NCAA could even void previous Penn State victories, drastically altering the results of football seasons long past.
NCAA officials did not return a call seeking comment.
The football program brings in more than $50 million in profit annually for Penn State, according to a Forbes study, funded in part by lucrative sponsorship deals with corporations including PepsiCo Inc and Nike Inc.
A suspension would put all of that in jeopardy and alienate the hundreds of thousands of fans that descend each fall on the school’s central Pennsylvania campus, nicknamed “Happy Valley,” for football games.
The team’s value to the university is certainly taking a hit, though.
TEAM‘S VALUE TAKES A HIT
The value of Penn State’s football program fell to $408.1 million last December from $446.9 million as recently as last October, according to Ryan Brewer, a professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus,
It had been ranked the third-most valuable team, but the drop now makes it the thirteenth-most valuable, said Brewer, who values collegiate teams as if they could be sold on the open market like National Football League franchises.
“In the Sandusky case, Penn State officials were really thinking about this amazing tree that grows money that Paterno built over the course of four decades,” said Brewer. “And Sandusky basically gave that tree a nasty infection.”
Bobby Bowden, the legendary former Florida State football coach, said the school should move forward regardless.
“What Penn State and others will do, I’d imagine, is draw an iron curtain between today and what happened in the past 50 years,” said Bowden, who resigned in 2012 amid a controversy over academic cheating on his football team.
“We’ve got to get the past behind us, and we’re hoping the Freeh report helps us move forward.”
So far, the school’s academic relationships with 49 companies which actively sponsor research and recruit students have not been affected by the Sandusky case, Penn State said.
Chemical maker DuPont plans to continue to recruit Penn State students and co-ordinate agricultural and other research with the university.
“It is a very strong school with excellent graduates,” DuPont spokeswoman Tara Condon-Tullier said of Penn State.
Lockheed Martin Corp, though, declined to comment. The aerospace contractor has in the past worked with Penn State faculty on scores of research projects.
Beyond academia, corporations are making moves.
Iconic show maker Nike Inc said on Thursday the Freeh report convinced it to rename the Joe Paterno Child Development Center at its Oregon headquarters.
Nike CEO Mark Parker said he was “deeply saddened” by the investigation, but did not say whether he would reevaluate the company’s sponsorship deals with the school. The company supplies football uniforms for the Nittany Lions.
“It is a terrible tragedy that children were unprotected from such abhorrent crimes,” Parker said.
Apart from the financial damage Penn State will endure, its reputation is forever tarnished.
“I just don’t think anyone could have dreamt this,” said B. David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University. “It would be like finding out that Mother Theresa was a drug dealer.”