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."
Another question is whether Penn State — and, by extension, Paterno, major college football's winningest coach — will have to vacate any victories. Paterno won 409 games for the school in his 46 seasons as head coach. USC lost a national title when it went on probation and Ohio State vacated the 2010 season, including its victory in the Sugar Bowl over Arkansas.
ACC Commissioner John Swofford said he doesn't know what the penalties will be, though many in college sports have given some thought to what they should be.
"I think a lot of us in this profession wrestle with that, to a degree, because the Penn State situation is unprecedented. I don't know of anything to compare it to," he said Sunday. "So, it's uncharted waters. A tragedy from every angle."
Kayla Weaver, a Penn State senior and member of the dance team called the Lionettes, said an NCAA death penalty would not only force the football players to transfer, but it would also 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, 21, from Franklin Lakes, N.J.
On Twitter, Akeel Lynch, a running back recruit who played high school football in western New York, wrote: "I still bleed blue and white," while quarterback Matt McGloin wrote, "The hotter the fire, the stronger the steel."
Tight end Garry Gilliam tweeted, "No matter what happens, I'm staying at Penn State."
Associated Press writers Kevin Begos in Pittsburgh and Ron Todt in Philadelphia and AP Sports Writer Joedy McCreary contributed to this report.
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