STATE COLLEGE, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - A key figure in the Penn State University sex abuse scandal was placed on administrative leave on Friday as university officials scrambled to contain the damage after shocking allegations of child rape rocked the campus in the last week.
The university may even see its borrowing costs rise in the coming months after a credit agency said it may consider downgrading Penn’s debt rating.
The scandal has already led to the firing of Joe Paterno, the revered coach who led the university’s football team, the Nittany Lions, for 46 years, and the university’s president.
On Friday, the university put linebacker coach Mike McQueary on administrative leave.
McQueary had testified to a grand jury that he saw former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky rape a child in the showers at a campus locker room in 2002 and said he reported what he saw to Paterno. Sandusky was charged last Saturday.
The university had said “multiple threats” had been made against McQueary.
As the scandal has exploded over the normally peaceful university town in central Pennsylvania, the horror at horror at Sandusky’s alleged crimes has been compounded by concern of about a possible high-level cover-up.
Many Penn State fans have said it is unfair that Paterno was dismissed and that McQueary was not. Paterno said he was told in 2002 that Sandusky engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior with a young boy. He told his boss, but did not call the police.
The mother of one boy involved said on Friday she feared Sandusky could have had many more victims than the eight included in the charges against him so far.
“The people that hid this need to pay for their actions. They allowed this to happen to a lot of kids,” the woman told ABC’s “Good Morning America”.
The mother, whose son is identified as Victim 1 in court papers, said there had been “so many years that he had access to these children, and I don’t believe that it stops at eight.” She said her son described Sandusky as a “weirdo.”
The scandal reverberated as far as Wall Street when ratings agency Moody’s warned of a possible credit downgrade.
“Over the next several months, Moody’s will evaluate the potential scope of reputation and financial risk arising from these events,” Dennis Gephart, a senior analyst at Moody’s said in a release.
The agency said the scandal could lead to lawsuits and settlements, weaker student demand, declines in philanthropic giving, and significant management or governance changes.
Penn State students pledged to show support for the child victims of the alleged abuse at the last home football game of the season on Saturday.
The mood on the campus was calm, but authorities planned to boost security after what police described as a “riotous mob” of students two days ago protested Paterno’s firing.
University board of trustees member Linda Strumpf told Reuters the board had considered canceling the game. “We felt very strongly that to penalize the players and the fans and the band ... was just the wrong thing to do,” she said.
Sandusky was charged on Saturday with sexually abusing eight young boys over more than a decade. Former Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and former finance official Gary Schultz, were charged with failing to report an incident.
Sandusky, Curley and Schultz denied the charges. Paterno met his legal obligation by reporting the abuse allegation to Curley, legal experts said.
Penn State’s board of trustees on Friday appointed Kenneth Frazier, the chief executive of drugmaker Merck & Co. and a Penn State alum, to head a special committee to investigate the events that lead up to the charges against Sandusky.
“We are going to do everything we can to restore the public’s faith,” Frazier told reporters.
The scandal has rocked the campus of about 45,000 students in the town of State College, the flagship of about two dozen Penn State campuses across the state.
Instead of the usual pre-game rally on Friday night, students planned a candle-light vigil for the alleged sex abuse victims and fans going to the final home game were urged to wear blue -- the color associated with a “stop child abuse” campaign -- rather than traditional white.
“We have to raise child abuse awareness. No one wanted to see Joe Paterno fired. We want to see some good come out of this,” said Jeff Lowe, 20, from Austin, Texas, who had a blue ribbon pinned to his shirt.
Lowe was among hundreds of Penn State fans camped out in advance of Saturday’s game against Nebraska to get good seats. The traditional sea of tents that springs up before each home game has long been dubbed “Paternoville.”
Penn State undergraduate student body president TJ Hurd said he did not expect violence at the game. Interim Penn State head coach Tom Bradley said he was not concerned about the safety of players.
The mother of Victim 1 said her son was 11 years old when he met Sandusky in 2005 through the former assistant coach’s Second Mile charity program for at-risk children.
She said her son had feared speaking out against Sandusky, telling her: “I didn’t know what to do ... you just can’t tell Jerry no.” But she said he is “doing OK” and felt a sense of relief when Sandusky was charged.
Prosecutors said Sandusky met all his alleged victims through the nonprofit group, which has said it cut ties with him in 2008. Sandusky coached for more than two decades at Penn State before retiring in 1999 and was once considered a likely successor to Paterno. After his retirement he retained access to Penn State facilities.
A ninth possible victim, now in his 20s, has since come forward, according to the Patriot-News in Harrisburg, and Pennsylvania police have set up a telephone hotline to receive information about the sexual abuse allegations.
Prosecutors in Texas also opened an investigation on Thursday into Sandusky after grand jury testimony in Pennsylvania indicated that he may have abused a young boy when Penn State was in San Antonio for the 1999 Alamo Bowl.
College football is hugely popular in the United States, drawing massive television audiences every Saturday in the late summer and autumn and filling huge stadiums. Penn State’s Beaver Stadium, which seats about 106,000, is one of the largest.
Teams generate millions of dollars in revenue and successful ones raise the profile of their universities. That, in turn, helps fundraising -- such as the $2 billion capital campaign now under way at Penn State.
Additional reporting by Mark Shade in Harrisburg and Dave Warner in Philadelphia; Writing by Michelle Nichols and Ros Krasny; Editing by Mark Egan and Jackie Frank