NEW YORK (Reuters) - Major college football postseason bowls spurned Penn State on Sunday because of the recent sex abuse scandal, and the Nittany Lions instead will play in a far less prominent game than its record suggests.
Jerry Sandusky, 67, a former assistant football coach at Penn State, was charged in November with multiple counts of sexually abusing eight young boys over a 15-year period. Sandusky has denied he abused the boys.
The scandal badly damaged the image of the powerhouse college football program and forced out its legendary head coach Joe Paterno.
Penn State had the fourth best record in the Big 10 conference this season at nine wins and three losses, and would have gone to one of the most prominent bowls in a normal year, college football analysts said.
But the Nittany Lions were not selected until the seventh bowl pick from among Big 10 teams and will play the University of Houston in the lowly TicketCity Bowl in Dallas on Jan 2, the teams announced.
“We feel a little disappointed we got passed up by some teams we beat in the Big Ten,” Drew Astorino, a senior Penn State football player, said on the Big Ten Network after the announcement.
Three teams Penn State beat during the season -- Northwestern, Ohio State, and Iowa -- were selected higher in the bowl pecking order. While the officials who select teams for bowls are encouraged to follow the form chart, they are not required to do so.
Analysts had suggested that bowl administrators might not want to be associated with the Penn State controversy, and also could have feared that the university’s normally football-mad alumni would not travel to a post-season game.
Two former university officials were charged in an alleged cover-up of the abuse. They have also said they are innocent.
The board of trustees fired Paterno and Penn State’s president for failing to tell police about an allegation of abuse once they learned of it.
Apart from the criminal case the university faces a string of external and internal investigations.
The TicketCity Bowl is being played for only the second time and pays the Big Ten conference only about half the money that one of the top bowls would pay.
“This opportunity is a fitting acknowledgment of the hard work, dedication and perseverance our student athletes have exhibited during this especially challenging season,” Penn State President Rodney Erickson said in a statement.
Penn State said last week it will donate its share of conference bowl proceeds, about $1.5 million, to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
Penn State has a 2-0 record against Houston, and last played the Cougars in 1977. Houston went undefeated in the regular season but lost Saturday to Southern Mississippi in the Conference USA Championship Game.
Reporting by Ros Krasny; Editing by Greg McCune