Emmert also stripped Penn State of all of its wins between 1998 and 2011, meaning that former coach Joe Paterno is no longer major college football's all-time winningest coach.
Emmert said suspending Penn State's program for at least one season was considered. But, in the end, Emmert sought sanctions that would not only punish but force Penn State to begin to "rebuild its athletic culture." Emmert sought to minimize the damages to innocent individuals.
"This is an unprecedented, painful chapter in the history of intercollegiate athletics," Emmert said during a news conference at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis.
The ruling was precedent-setting because Emmert bypassed usual investigation protocol and instead turned to the NCAA executive committee and Division 1 Board of Directors for the authority to punish Penn State after its child sex-abuse scandal.
The report by former FBI director Louis Freeh concluded that senior leaders at Penn State, including former football coach Joe Paterno, concealed information that could have stopped Sandusky from preying on young children. Emmert relied upon the findings of the report, which he said was more exhaustive than any NCAA investigation in memory.
Some former NCAA investigators and infractions committee chairman said it was rare, if not unprecedented for the association to address the Penn State case because it involved a cover-up of criminal activity rather than a violation of traditional NCAA bylaws.
Ed Ray, the chairman of the executive committee, called the case "historically unprecedented" because of "reckless and callous disregard for the children."
"The message is the presidents and the chancellors are in charge," Ray said. "These are extraordinary circumstances. The executive committee has the authority to act in extraordinary circumstances. Every college and university needs to do a gut check."
The move essentially bumps Penn State down to the scholarship levels of schools in theFootball Championship Subdivision.
The school will be forced to vacate all wins from 1998-2011, a total of 112 victories, and serve five years of probation.
The loss of victories means Paterno is no longer major college football's winningest coach. He was fired in November during the scandal after 409 wins at the school. That total is now officially 298. One victory last season came under interim coach Tom Bradley.
Florida State's Bobby Bowden, who himself had 12 wins vacated due NCAA violations, is now the major college leader with 377 victories. Grambling's Eddie Robinson is theDivision I leader with 408 wins in 57 seasons, ending in 1997.
Because of the length of the punishment, all current Penn State players and incoming freshmen will be free to transfer to another school without penalty.
The totality of the sanctions will have a drastic impact on the school's ability to compete in football the rest of the decade.
The NCAA ruling represented a seminal moment for Emmert, the former University of Washington president whose 20-month tenure has coincided with an unpredictable and turbulent time in college sports.
The spate of high-profile scandals that came to light under Emmert's watch, including one involving alleged widespread booster payments at Miami, took a backseat when Sandusky was arrested Nov. 5. The graphic nature of what then were allegations of sexual abuse against children repulsed the public and soured the sporting mood whenLSU played Alabama on the most anticipated Saturday of the sport's regular season.
Immediate focus centered on Paterno: How much did he know and when did he know it? Did his inaction enable a sexual predator to continue to prey on children, most from troubled homes?
Paterno was soon fired, famously by telephone, because of what Penn State officials deemed a lack of leadership exhibited after former graduate assistant Mike McQuearytold Paterno in 2001 that he had witnessed Sandusky sexually abuse a child of roughly 10 years of age in the Penn State locker room showers.
When Paterno was ousted, more than 1,000 Penn State students flooded the campus streets, some chanting, "Hell, no, Joe won't go!"
University president Graham Spanier was fired. Two other administrators, athletic director Tim Curley, who remains on leave, and now-retired vice president Gary Schultz, continue to await trial on charges of failing to report child abuse and lying to a grand jury. Both have maintained their innocence.
Throughout the winter, the scandal continued to deepen as Paterno's legacy unraveled. When Paterno spoke with The Washington Post's Sally Jenkins in January - what would be his final interview - he appeared a weakened man, speaking with a rasp and battling lung cancer. Paterno told The Post that he did not know what to do when McQueary informed him of what McQueary saw in part "because I never heard of, of, rape and a man."
Three days later, Paterno was dead, his legacy clouded, if not forever stained.
In Bellefonte, Pa., last month, a jury of seven women and five men, including nine with ties to the university, found Sandusky guilty on 45 of 48 counts. He was convicted of sexually assaulting 10 boys over 15 years and faces life in prison.
The release of a report by former FBI director Louis Freeh this month added a punctuation mark to the scandal and provided clarity to the tarnished legacy of major college football's all-time winningest coach. One page after another, all part of a nearly eight-month investigation that drew upon more than 400 interviews and 3 million documents, exposed Paterno as one of the senior university leaders who for years concealed information that could have stopped Sandusky from abusing more children.
Among the most alarming findings was that Paterno had been aware of a 1998 investigation of allegations that Sandusky abused a boy in Penn State's locker room showers. Paterno followed the case closely - Sandusky was not prosecuted - but did not take action or alert the board of trustees. (The Paterno family had recently maintained that Paterno was not aware of the 1998 investigation at the time.)
Three years later, the Freeh report suggests, Paterno dissuaded Curley from having Penn State's administration report to authorities the allegations made by McQueary. And the report concluded that senior school officials did not demonstrate concern for the safety or well being of Sandusky's victims until after Sandusky's arrest.
The nearly 300-page report also added fuel to the debate over whether Penn State or the NCAA should shut down the Nittany Lions' football program for at least one season and whether the university should remove the bronze Paterno statue outside Beaver Stadium, which it did on Sunday morning.
The NCAA has imposed the so-called death penalty on a major college football team just once. And it has taken SMU more than two decades to recover after it was shut down in the late 1980s following a scandal that involved, among other violations, widespread booster payments to players.
But with Penn State's case, the NCAA confronted a scandal unlike any the association had ever seen. The wrongdoing, while egregious, did not reflect traditional violations of NCAA bylaws. And no obvious competitive advantage was gained by the cover-up of criminal activity.
Former NCAA investigators and infractions committee chairmen argued that the NCAA should leave the Penn State scandal for the criminal and civil courts. But Emmert, who recently said in a PBS interview that the death penalty remained on the table, felt compelled to punish Penn State with sanctions that would severely impact its football program for years.
And with the backing of the NCAA's executive committee and the Division I board of directors, Emmert bypassed usual investigation protocol and levied an array of penalties that will long be studied and debated in the college sports world.
Paterno's two national titles remain intact, but his statue is gone, his reputation is irreparably scarred and the program he built during a 61-year career, 46 as head coach, is left to deal with harsh NCAA sanctions and the pending rulings of ongoing investigations.
With the NCAA verdict handed down, Penn State still could face further punitive measures. The Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Education are conducting investigations into the school's actions in relation to the scandal.