Post-Paterno Penn State Game Draws Record ESPN Ratings Amid Abuse Scandal

Penn State University’s first football game since the firing of coach Joe Paterno over his handling of allegations of child-sex abuse was the most-watched noon college football contest on ESPN since at least 2001, the Walt Disney Co. (DIS) network said in an e-mail.

The University of Nebraska’s 17-14 victory in State College, Pennsylvania, on Nov. 12 was seen in 3.8 percent of U.S. homes in the top 56 metered television markets, ESPN spokeswoman Gracie Blackburn said, citing Nielsen Holdings NV.

It was Penn State’s first game since a grand jury’s child sex-abuse charges against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky rocked the campus, resulting in the removal of Paterno and university President Graham B. Spanier.

Penn State’s 23 senior players were honored in a pregame ceremony and players and coaches on both teams met at midfield before kickoff for a moment of reflection and prayer.

Home fans at sold-out Beaver Stadium, some crying as the Penn State Blue Band played the school’s alma mater, showed support for child-abuse victims around the world by dressing in blue, which coincides with the Blue Ribbon Campaign to Prevent Child Abuse.

“I was awful proud of them,” Penn State interim head coach Tom Bradley said of his players in a televised interview after the game. “They showed a lot of character, a lot of resolve.”

Championship Chance

Penn State (8-2, 5-1) dropped nine spots to No. 21 in the Bowl Championship Series rankings and can clinch a berth in the first Big Ten championship game on Dec. 3 in Indianapolis with victories in its next two games, on the road at Ohio State and Wisconsin. No. 16 Nebraska (8-2, 4-2) can reach the game if it wins the rest of its games and Michigan State loses once.

Paterno, 84, was fired Nov. 9 midway through his 46th season as Penn State’s coach. His 409 wins are the most for any coach in college football’s highest division. Spanier, 63, was also fired the same day after 16 years as president.

Sandusky, 67, was released on $100,000 unsecured bail on Nov. 5 after appearing on charges involving sexual abuse of children when he ran The Second Mile, a charitable organization for young people. The charges involve sexual assaults or advances on eight boys from 1994 to 2009, according to Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly.

Officials Arraigned

Athletic Director Timothy Curley, 57, and Gary Schultz, 62, a senior vice president who oversaw the university police, were arraigned on charges of perjury and failing to report the allegations. The school announced on Nov. 7 that Schultz would step down and return to retirement, while Curley would be placed on administrative leave to focus on his defense.

The grand jury report says that in 2002, Mike McQueary, then a graduate student and now an assistant coach, witnessed Sandusky in a shower at the university’s football building sexually assaulting a boy, estimated to be around 10 years old. The report says McQueary told Paterno about what he saw -- it doesn’t specify how much detail he provided -- and that Paterno told him to speak with Curley and Shultz.

After meeting with McQueary, Shultz and Curley reported to Spanier, who banned Sandusky from bringing children from his charity in the university’s football building, according to the report. Spanier told the grand jury he was unaware that the incident was sexual in nature.

To contact the reporters on this story: Eben Novy-Williams in New York at enovywilliam@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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