By Craig Houtz
State College, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - The National Collegiate Athletic Association said it intends to punish Penn State University after the conviction of one of football coach Joe Paterno's long-time assistants on child abuse sex charges, while the school on Sunday removed a statue of the (noted coach from its grounds.
The NCAA, which governs college sports, said it planned to announce "corrective and punitive measures" against Penn State at a news conference on Monday.
Meanwhile, Penn State leaders acknowledged that the seven-foot (2.1-metre) statue of the late Paterno had become "a source of division" at the school after Jerry Sandusky, Paterno's former assistant coach, was convicted in June of sexually abusing 10 boys over 15 years
Critics had increased calls for its removal following the recent release of a damning report by former FBI director Louis Freeh that criticized Paterno for his role in protecting
"I now believe that, contrary to its original intention, Coach Paterno's statue has become a source of division and an obstacle to healing in our university and beyond," Penn State President Rodney Erickson said in a statement on Sunday.
"For that reason, I have decided that it is in the best interest of our university and public safety to remove the statue and store it in a secure location," Erickson said. "I believe that, were it to remain, the statue will be a recurring wound to the multitude of individuals across the nation and beyond who have been the victims of child abuse."
At the same time, Erickson, who acknowledged his decision would not be popular in some quarters of the Penn State community, said he feels "strongly" that Penn State's Paterno Library should retain its name. The statement gave no indication of when the statue would be removed.
The scandal rocked the university and its powerful football program and sparked a national conversation about child predation.
The subsequent Freeh report, commissioned by the university's board of trustees and released July 12, said Paterno and other high-ranking Penn State officials covered up Sandusky's actions for years while demonstrating a callous disregard for the abuse victims.
"With the release of Judge Freeh's Report of the Special Investigative Counsel, we as a community have had to confront a failure of leadership at many levels," Erickson said. "The statue of Joe Paterno outside Beaver Stadium has become a lightning rod of controversy and national debate, including the role of big time sports in university life. The Freeh Report has given us a great deal to reflect upon and to consider, including Coach Paterno's legacy."
On Tuesday, a small plane flew a banner around Penn State's campus that read, "Take the statue down or we will."
Erickson, in an apparent push back at the forces that helped make Paterno the most powerful individual at Penn State for much of the nearly five decades he coached there, said the university cannot have its reputation defined by a single individual. Penn State's celebrated football team engendered alumni loyalty, and their contributions, to the school.
"Coach Paterno's positive impact over the years and everything he did for this University predate his statue," Erickson said. "At the same time it is true that our institution's excellence cannot be attributed to any one person or to athletics."
Paterno was fired by Penn State's board in November, days after Sandusky was arrested for the abuse. Paterno died in January of lung cancer at age 85.
The statue hails Paterno as the coach with the most victories in major U.S. college football history.
Sandusky, 68, awaits sentencing. He faces up to 373 years in prison.
In 2001, graduate assistant Mike McQueary witnessed Sandusky assaulting a boy in a shower at the Penn State athletic complex. McQueary told Paterno, who told Athletic Director Tim Curley, who subsequently consulted with then university Vice President Gary Schultz and university President Graham Spanier. No one ever went to police.
"Paterno, Curley and McQueary were obligated to report the 2001 Sandusky incident to the University Police Department for inclusion in Clery Act statistics and for determining whether a timely warning should be issued to the University community. No record exists of such a report," the Freeh report said.
Spanier was fired in November at the same time as Paterno. Curley and Schultz have been charged with perjury for allegedly lying to a grand jury investigating Sandusky's crimes and for failing to report suspected child abuse. They have pleaded not guilty.
The university is also under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education for possible violations of the Clery Act, which requires colleges to collect and report daily and annual crime statistics and issue timely warnings to students and others.
Penn State could also face hundreds of millions of dollars in civil liability from the victims of Sandusky's abuse, legal experts have said. The university has invited the victims to negotiate with it about possible settlements.
(Additional reporting by Dan Burns; Editing by Edith Honan and Jackie Frank)
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