(AP) STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - The famed statue of Joe Paterno was taken down from outside the Penn State football stadium Sunday, eliminating a key piece of the iconography surrounding the once-sainted football coach accused of burying child sex abuse allegations against a retired assistant.
Workers lifted the 7-foot-tall statue off its base and used a forklift to move it into Beaver Stadium as the 100 to 150 students watching chanted, "We are Penn State."
The statue, weighing more than 900 pounds, was built in 2001 in honor of Paterno's record-setting 324th Division 1 coaching victory and his "contributions to the university."
A spokeswoman for the Paterno family didn't immediately return phone and email messages.
Construction vehicles and police arrived shortly after dawn Sunday, barricading the street and sidewalks near the statue, erecting a chain-link fence then concealing the statue with a blue tarp.
Penn State President Rod Erickson said he decided to have the statue removed and put into storage because it "has become a source of division and an obstacle to healing."
"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," Erickson said in a statement released at 7 a.m. Sunday.
He said Paterno's name will remain on the campus library because it "symbolizes the substantial and lasting contributions to the academic life and educational excellence that the Paterno family has made to Penn State University."
The statue's sculptor, Angelo Di Maria, said it was upsetting to hear that the statue had been taken down.
"It's like a whole part of me is coming down. It's just an incredibly emotional process," Di Maria said.
The bronze sculpture has been a rallying point for students and alumni outraged over Paterno's firing four days after Sandusky's Nov. 5 arrest — and grief-stricken over the Hall of Fame coach's Jan. 22 death at age 85.
But it turned into a target for critics after former FBI Director Louis Freeh alleged a cover-up by Paterno, ousted President Graham Spanier and two Penn State officials, Athletic Director Tim Curley and Vice President Gary Schultz. Their failure to report Sandusky to child-welfare authorities in 2001 allowed him to continue molesting boys, the report found.
Paterno's family, along with attorneys for Spanier, Curley and Schultz, vehemently deny any suggestion they protected a pedophile. Curley and Schultz await trial on charges of failing to report child abuse and lying to a grand jury but maintain their innocence. Spanier hasn't been charged. Sandusky was convicted last month of 45 counts of sexual abuse of 10 boys.
Some newspaper columnists and former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden have said the statue should be taken down, while a small plane pulled a banner over State College reading, "Take the statue down or we will."
But Paterno still has plenty of fans, and Penn State's decision to remove the monument won't sit well with them. One student even vowed to "chain myself to that statue" if there was an attempt to remove it.
University officials had called the issue a sensitive one in light of Paterno's enormous contributions to the school over a 61-year coaching career. The Paterno family is well-known in the community for philanthropic efforts, including the millions of dollars they've donated to the university to help build a library and fund endowments and scholarships.
"I've never seen anything like it," the source tells correspondent Armen Keteyian.
NCAA President Mark Emmert will make the announcement Monday morning at 9 a.m. Eastern at the organization's headquarters in Indianapolis.The NCAA did not make details of the penalties public prior to the announcement, but industry sources tell CBSSports.com's Brett McMurphy the fine will be at least $30 million, and perhaps as much as $60 million, for the university's involvement in the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
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The penalties come in the wake of the independent report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh that chronicled repeated efforts by four top Penn State officials, including former football coach Joe Paterno, to conceal allegations of serial child sex abuse by Sandusky over a 14-year period.
The NCAA had been awaiting the school's response to four key questions pertaining to the sex abuse scandal, including issues involving institutional control and ethics.A multi-year bowl ban, lost scholarships, recruiting limits, probation and a multimillion-dollar fine all seem likely for the program Paterno built into a national power under the slogan of "success with honor." And the NCAA, heavily criticized for its sometimes-ponderous pace in deciding penalties as scandals mounted at Ohio State, Auburn, USC and elsewhere, acted with unprecedented swiftness in arriving at what it called "corrective and punitive" sanctions for a team that is trying to start over with a new coach and a new outlook.
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The NCAA announced no details Sunday in serving notice that it would indeed weigh in on perhaps the worst scandal in American college sports history.
President Mark Emmert cautioned last week that he had not ruled out the possibility of shutting down the football program altogether - the so-called death penalty, famously used against Southern Methodist a quarter-century ago - saying he had "never seen anything as egregious" as the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
A harsh penalty from the NCAA could have repercussions well beyond Penn State's football program, which generates large profits - more than $50 million, according to the U.S. Department of Education - that subsidize dozens of other sports at the school.
The potential for a historic NCAA penalty also is worrisome for a region where the economy is built at least partially on the strength and popularity of the football program.
Kayla Weaver, a Penn State senior and member of the dance team called the Lionettes, said an NCAA death penalty would not only make football players transfer, but it also would force program changes for cheerleaders, dancers and band members, and would hurt season-ticket holders.
"It could ruin everything that we've built here," said Weaver, from Franklin Lakes, N.J.
Added Derek Leonard, a 31-year-old university construction project coordinator who grew up in the area: "It's going to kill our town."
Emmert put the Penn State matter on the fast track. Other cases that were strictly about violating the NCAA rulebook have dragged on for months and even years. There was no sign that the infractions committee so familiar to college sports fans was involved this time around as Emmert moved quickly, no doubt aided by the July 12 release of the report by former FBI director Louis Freeh and what it said about Paterno and the rest of the Penn State leadership.
The investigation focused partly on university officials' decision not to go to child-welfare authorities in 2001 after a coaching assistant told Paterno that he had seen Sandusky sexually abusing a boy in the locker room showers. Penn State officials already knew about a previous allegation against Sandusky by that time, from 1998.
The leaders, the report said, "repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky's child abuse from authorities, the university's board of trustees, the Penn State community and the public at large."
Sandusky is awaiting sentencing after being convicted last month of sexually abusing 10 boys over 15 years.
Emmert had warned Penn State last fall that the NCAA would be examining the "exercise of institutional control" within the athletic department, and said it was clear that "deceitful and dishonest behavior" could be considered a violation of ethics rules. So, too, could a failure to exhibit moral values or adhere to ethics guidelines.
The Freeh report also said school had "decentralized and uneven" oversight of compliance issues - laws, regulations, policies and procedures - as required by the NCAA.
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Recent major scandals, such as improper payments to the family of Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush while he was at Southern California, and players at Ohio State trading memorabilia for cash and tattoos, have resulted in bowl bans and the loss of scholarships.
Current NCAA rules limit the so-called "death penalty" to colleges already on probation that commit another major violation. That was the case when SMU had its program suspended in the mid-80s, the last time the punishment was imposed on a major college football program.
NCAA leaders have indicated in recent months they are willing to return to harsher penalties for the worst offenses.
"This is completely different than an impermissible benefits scandal like (what) happened at SMU, or anything else we've dealt with. This is as systemic a cultural problem as it is a football problem. There have been people that said this wasn't a football scandal," Emmert told PBS recently.
"It was that but much more. And we'll have to figure out exactly what the right penalties are. I don't know that past precedent makes particularly good sense in this case because it's really an unprecedented problem," Emmert said.
Another question was whether Penn State - and, by extension, Paterno, major college football's winningest coach - would have any of his victories thrown out. Paterno won 409 games for the school in his 46 seasons as head coach.