Joe Paterno insisted college football excellence and academic integrity could coexist. The former Penn State coach who died in January called it the Grand Experiment, attempting to prove a team could win while still graduating players and sending men ready to succeed in life. On Monday, the NCAA claimed Paterno's plan was a failure.

CHAMPAIGN -- Joe Paterno insisted college football excellence and academic integrity could coexist.


The former Penn State coach who died in January called it the Grand Experiment, attempting to prove a team could win while still graduating players and sending men ready to succeed in life. On Monday, the NCAA claimed Paterno's plan was a failure.


A football-first culture had taken over Penn State, NCAA president Mark Emmert said, and it led to a series of punishments, fines and a cloudy future for one of the nation's top college football powerhouses after the worst scandal in college history.


"If you find yourself in a place where the athletic culture is taking precedence over academic culture, then a variety of bad things can occur,'' Emmert said.


Football first, a catch phrase that gained momentum Monday, is nothing new in describing a university that allowed the football program to become bigger than the institution.


It's become a nervous topic, even before Ohio State president Gordon Gee threw out a one-liner in 2011 when announcing, at the time, that school wouldn't fire Jim Tressel as football coach.


"Are you kidding?" Gee said, searching to break the tension. "Let me be very clear. I'm just hoping the coach doesn't dismiss me.''


Well, Ohio State later fired Tressel. Penn State took the hit this time when the NCAA fined Penn State $60 million, banned the school from playing in football bowl games for four seasons and forced the Nittany Lions to limit scholarships for four years. The roster will be capped at 65 scholarship players, 20 under the limit, in as early as two years.


An investigation found Paterno and high-level administration covered up the actions of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted of child sex abuse earlier this summer.


The public may find it hard to believe the NCAA about any desire to avoid a football-first mentality when college coaches earn up to multi-millions a year and football players face different admissions requirements than the rest of the student body. This comes before college football puts up a four-team playoff for bid soon on a TV contract that could pay billions.


Illinois offered only an official prepared joint statement from chancellor Phyllis Wise and athletic director Mike Thomas, saying, "Our hearts go out to all those who were victimized, and we fully support both the actions taken by the NCAA and the Big Ten’s Council of Presidents and Chancellors.''


Otherwise, the university deflected interview requests to the Big Ten, which said the findings "support the conclusion that our colleagues at Penn State, individuals that we have known and with whom we have worked for many years, have egregiously failed on many levels — morally, ethically and potentially criminally.''


"This is not a proud moment for the Big Ten Conference,'' said Iowa president Sally Mason, the chair of the Big Ten council of presidents and chancellors.


The Big Ten also fined the school $13 million -- roughly what it would have earned from the shared revenue from the league's bowl appearances over the next four years. 


Penn State was forced to vacate wins dating back to 1998 -- including the final one by Paterno on Oct. 28, when the Nittany Lions rallied for a 10-7 victory over Illinois. The 111 wins taken away from Paterno moved him from the all-time wins leader to 12th. Nevertheless, teams such as Illinois won't add to win totals. 


Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany would "support as much freedom as possible'' concerning any Penn State players who want to transfer, giving a green light to do so within the Big Ten.


The league didn't seriously consider expelling Penn State from the Big Ten, Mason said. The conference won't realign the football divisions, according to Delany, even though the divisions were split into two six-team groups with two historically powerful programs in each division -- Ohio State and Penn State in the Leaders Division with Michigan and Nebraska in the Legends.


This fall, Ohio State joins Penn State as ineligible to compete for a spot in the Big Ten title game because of a one-year bowl ban imposed by the NCAA.


Penn State president Rodney Erickson said the university accepted the severe NCAA sanctions to avoid the death penalty, according to the Centre Daily Times in State College, Pa.


"We had our backs to the wall on this,'' Erickson said. "We did what we thought was necessary to save the program.''


Of course, the Paterno family disagreed with the NCAA, just like it didn't like the Freeh report, the independent investigation into the Penn State scandal released less than two weeks ago.


"The NCAA has now become the latest party to accept the report as the final word on the Sandusky scandal,'' the family said in a statement Monday. "The sanctions announced by the NCAA today defame the legacy and contributions of a great coach and educator without any input from our family or those who knew him best.''


Hero worship, it appears, isn't entirely dead in Happy Valley.


John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnSupinie.