Sandusky, 68, was a long-time coach of the university’s football team, a revered institution in a country where college sports are a beloved tradition and lucrative business.
Once a hero in his home state of Philadelphia, the former defensive coordinator now seems certain to die behind bars after being convicted of paedophilia charges.
In issuing the sentence, Judge John Cleland said the prison term had “the unmistakable impact of being for the rest of your life.”
On the eve of his sentencing, Sandusky released a taped statement on Penn State’s student radio station in which he denied he committed the “alleged disgusting acts”.
He said he knows in his heart that he did not do what he called “these alleged disgusting acts” and described himself as the victim of Penn State, investigators, civil attorneys, the media and others.
“They can take away my life, they can make me out as a monster, they can treat me as a monster, but they can’t take away my heart,” he told the radio station. “In my heart, I know I did not do these alleged disgusting acts. My wife has been my only sex partner and that was after marriage.”
Sandusky was found guilty of 45 of 48 counts against him. One of his six adopted children has also said he was abused, but he was not called to testify.
Almost as shocking as the systemic abuse was a recent inquiry that found senior officials at Penn State had covered up the abuse by Sandusky, to avoid negative press coverage.
An eight-month investigation by a former FBI director found that Sandusky should have been stopped in 1998 after being caught showering with a boy in a changing room.
Instead, “nothing was done” by Joe Paterno, the late head coach of the university’s American Football team, or the university president, vice president or athletic director, and “Sandusky was allowed to continue with impunity”, Louis Freeh concluded.