PSU trustees cite legal question in delaying vote on sanctions
The NCAA was on the verge of slamming Penn State with even harsher penalties for the Jerry Sandusky scandal had President Rodney Erickson not agreed to the current sanctions, trustees were told Sunday night.
Penn State’s board of trustees met via teleconference with the original intent of voting on whether to accept the penalties the NCAA handed down July 23. Those included a $60 million fine, a four-year ban on postseason bowl appearances, loss of scholarships and vacating all the football program’s victories from 1998 to 2011.
But board Chair Karen Peetz said the meeting did not have the 10 days’ notice required by the university’s charter. Instead of hearing motions or taking votes, Erickson and other university officials told trustees how the NCAA had considered even harsher penalties against the university, including multiple years of the “death penalty” — a shutdown of the football program — to be followed by more sanctions once the program resumed.
“An overwhelming majority of the (NCAA) boards wanted blood,” Erickson said in recounting his conversations with NCAA officials. “Things were moving fast, and not in a good direction for Penn State.”
But he said the NCAA reconsidered, citing Penn State’s ouster of longtime football coach Joe Paterno, prior President Graham Spanier, senior Vice President Gary Schultz and Athletic Director Tim Curley; the commissioning and public airing of the Louis Freeh investigation of the scandal; and the fact that the football program itself was not directly involved.
Even then, the death penalty was the only other alternative, said Gene Marsh, the attorney who advised the university during its dealings with the NCAA. While Penn State was able to tweak language of the penalties, officials could not alter the substance, he said.
“It was clear that the NCAA was not interested in negotiating the terms,” Erickson said. “It was a take-it-or-leave-it proposition.”
“The NCAA board thought it was the worst case of loss of institutional control they had ever seen, and that an even greater issue on their mind, beyond the acts of individuals, was the idea of a culture problem at Penn State,” Marsh said. “People who are looking at and making comments about precedent and previous cases are really missing the important point: The dominant theme coming from the NCAA throughout the week was that grave concern with culture.”
University Vice President and general counsel Steve Dunham said Erickson had the authority as president to accept the penalties, and the NCAA wasn’t obliged to give the university “due process” because the NCAA is a membership organization.
By the meeting’s end, most trustees said they supported Erickson’s decision to accept the penalties, although many still called them unfair or excessive.
Alumni and others have urged the trustees to take a formal vote on accepting the sanctions, while former players and Paterno’s family have announced their intent to appeal the NCAA’s decision. Trustee Ryan McCombie previously asked other trustees to join him in an appeal but said Sunday he’ll have his lawyers hold off pending further review.
“Penn State has served as a model program for other NCAA member institutions, contrary to the conclusion that we had a ‘culture problem,’” said Anthony Lubrano, one of the trustees elected by alumni, who also had expressed interest in an appeal. “Many of us have a deep affection because of the values and ideas of a man named Paterno. I believe he had more integrity in his little finger than the NCAA leadership has in his entire body.”
Peetz said the board and Erickson would move ahead with implementing the sanctions and work on rebuilding Penn State’s reputation.
Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or [email protected].