BELLEFONTE, Pennsylvania - The man at the center of a child sex abuse case that rocked the college football world waived his preliminary hearing Tuesday, a surprise decision that allowed him to avoid facing his accusers and moves him toward a trial.
Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky told reporters as he left the courthouse that he would "stay the course, to fight for four quarters" and "wait for the opportunity to present our side."
Added Sandusky's lawyer, Joseph Amendola, "We couldn't do that today."
Audible gasps were heard when the announcement of the waiver was made in the courtroom in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, about 10 miles from the Penn State campus in State College.
At preliminary hearings, prosecutors must show that they have probable cause to bring the case to trial. Prosecutors in this case were expected to meet that relatively low bar, in part because the case has been through a grand jury.
Sandusky has denied the allegations, which led to the departures of longtime Penn State football coach Joe Paterno and the university president. He has been accused of 52 charges of sexual abuse over the span of 12 years involving 10 boys.
"We are not in any way conceding guilt. Today's decision was a tactical measure," Amendola told reporters outside the courtroom.
None of the accusers were at the courthouse Tuesday morning, having heard news of the defense waiver before coming in, a court source told NBC News. Eleven witnesses were prepared to testify on Tuesday, NBC's Michael Isikoff reported.
"This development we believe provides maximum protection to most importantly the victims in this case," said Senior Deputy Attorney General E. Marc Costanzo. "It avoids their having to testify for a second time. They will of course testify at a trial in the case."
Costanzo said the amount of publicity generated by Sandusky's attorney made the move unexpected, but said the decision to waive was not unusual given the strength of the state's case.
Sandusky's decision immediately prompted speculation that he may seek a deal to plead guilty in return for a reduced prison sentence.
"I think the chances are really good" of a plea bargain, said Slade McLaughlin, a lawyer representing Victim One, whom Sandusky is alleged to have abused more than 20 times in 2007 and 2008.
But there have been no discussions of such a deal, Costanzo said, echoing statements from Amendola, Sandusky's lawyer.
Sandusky's next court appearance, an arraignment, was scheduled for Jan. 11, but he entered a not guilty plea on Tuesday, and does not need to appear in court for the trial on that date, NBC reported. He remains under house arrest.