Penn State was hit with a $60 million sanction, a four-year postseason ban, vacation of wins dating back to 1998, and its players can transfer immediately.
"It's a strong statement that the integrity and things the NCAA stands for and major college football stands for are going to be to protect everyone that's involved with it," Fitzgerald said when speaking to the media at the Northwestern Coaches' Caravan. "It's a tragic situation, it's a tough day, but it pales in comparison to the poor victims that had their innocence taken away from them."
The NCAA sanctions could have a lasting impact on the Penn State football that effects the program for more than the four-year postseason ban. The loss of 10 scholarships per year and likely transfer of many key current players will impact the Big Ten's competitive balance for many years.
Many Nittany Lion football players face a difficult decision over the coming days. Fitzgerald is sympathetic for those players, but is keeping his feelings in perspective.
"It's a tough day from the standpoint of a football player at Penn State," said Fitzgerald. "Hopefully those people that had their innocence stolen, it's an opportunity to heal some very, very deep wounds."
Part of the sanctions handed down on Penn State permit current players to join any program in the country without losing a year of eligibility -- essentially making each Nittany Lion a free agent. Fitzgerald declined to comment on if Northwestern is planning on accepting a Penn State transfer, saying it's "premature" to consider it.
However, Fitzgerald feels the Penn State program will be able to keep much of its current roster in tact.
"I'd assume like most young men, they're going to want to band together and brothers and continue to be teammates with each other, as someone who has been in a locker room before as a football player," Fitzgerald said. "We'll see how that all transpires for their team this year. Coach O'Brien will do a great job and his young men are terrific. I think they'll fight through this."
The scandal has a personal impact on Fitzgerald, who was close friends with Paterno.
"Professionally, I'm very thankful for Coach and how gracious he was to me," said Fitzgerald. "As these circumstances have unfolded and more information has come out, it's obviously very sad for the family and sad for the university, but that pales in comparison for those who had their innocence taken away. That's what the focus should be, helping those people."
The Wildcats and Nittany Lions meet on October 6 in Beaver Stadium. What happens to the PSU program between now and then remains to be seen, though the sanctions passed down could change Penn State football for years to come.
"The NCAA made a statement that we're going to support those that had their unfortunately innocence taken away from them through a very sad set of circumstances," Fitzgerald said. "Hopefully this will be part of that healing process."