(Reuters) - Penn State has settled the bulk of claims by child sex abuse victims of Jerry Sandusky in a major step to move beyond a scandal that cost millions and upended a once legendary football program, the university said on Monday.
The university has agreed to pay $59.7 million to 26 men in the wake of the Sandusky's conviction in June 2012 for abuse, Penn State said on its website. Claims from six other men who said the former assistant football coach abused them as children have been rejected or may result in possible settlements, the school said.
"We hope this is another step forward in the healing process for those hurt by Mr. Sandusky, and another step forward for Penn State," University President Rodney Erickson said in a statement.
"We cannot undo what has been done, but we can and must do everything possible to learn from this and ensure it never happens again at Penn State," he added.
Sandusky, 69, was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison for abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period, in a case that tarnished the reputation of Penn State and its late football coach Joe Paterno, who lost his job for failing to report Sandusky to authorities.
"There is some sense of affirmation, but there remains the deep wounds and scars that are wide open and every day it's a struggle," said Jeff Anderson, a lawyer for the last two victims to accept the settlement.
The figure is close to the $60 million fine imposed by the NCAA - the equivalent of the annual gross revenue of the football program - along with other sanctions.
The victim settlement comes on top of $50 million already spent on fines, legal bills and other costs linked to the scandal that rocked the university after a grand jury indicted Sandusky in November 2011.
"No amount of money can restore the innocence that was taken from the victims. It's only because of their generosity and courage in speaking up that Sandusky was removed from his powerful position and children are safer," said the victim advocacy group Survivors of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).
The school said the settlement amounts will not be funded by student tuition, taxpayer funds or donations. The university maintains liability insurance policies it believes will cover the settlements.
Sandusky lost a bid earlier this month for a new trial.
Pennsylvania Superior Court Judge Jack Panella, writing for a three-judge appeals panel, rejected claims that defense attorneys were not given enough time to prepare, jury instructions were flawed and prosecutors made improper comments during the trial about Sandusky's decision not to testify.
Paterno, as head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions, scored the most wins in major college football history until the NCAA stripped the team of more than 100 victories because of the scandal. Paterno died early last year at age 85.
Three former Penn State administrators, including the former president, Graham Spanier, have been criminally charged with conspiring to cover up the scandal.
(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Dina Kyriakidou, Will Dunham and Richard Chang)