Penn State president: University can cover legal costs

Rodney Erickson appeared on "Face the Nation."
Rodney Erickson appeared on "Face the Nation."
Posted: July 31, 2012

Pennsylvania State University president Rodney Erickson said Sunday a "combination of funds," including insurance coverage, would be used to pay the $60 million fine the NCAA imposed as well as the costs of any litigation brought by victims of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

On CBS's Face the Nation, Erickson said the university would likely provide a long-term loan to the athletic department from its financial reserves to pay the fine.

On Tuesday, the NCAA imposed the fine and a four-year ban on the football team's postseason play and vacated all the team's victories dating to 1998. The invalidation of those wins strips famed Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno, who died in January, of the distinction of being the winningest Division I coach.

The NCAA also ordered the university to reduce partial and full football scholarships each year for four years, a penalty expected to severely hurt Penn State's ability to recruit standout players.

The punishment was a stinging rebuke of the attempts at the highest levels of the state-affiliated university to cover up the Sandusky affair.

Details of that alleged conspiracy of silence and inaction were outlined and condemned earlier this month in a 267-page report of an internal investigation at Penn State led by former FBI Director Louis Freeh.

The extraordinary document accused Paterno, former university president Graham B. Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley, and Gary Schultz, a former vice president in charge of campus police, of protecting the school's image rather than Sandusky's young victims. The board of trustees was also faulted.

Sandusky, 68, was convicted June 22 on 45 counts of sexual abuse involving 10 boys he met through the Second Mile charity he founded for disadvantaged youth. He awaits sentencing.

Curley and Schultz await trial on charges that they failed to report allegations against Sandusky to authorities and later lied to a grand jury.

Spanier has not been charged with a crime. Sources close to an ongoing grand jury investigation said he had recently become a potential target.

In an interview with Erickson broadcast Sunday, CBS's Bob Schieffer cited criticism inside and outside the university that Penn State's president had "just rolled over" in accepting the NCAA sanctions.

Erickson said he had no option but to accept them "faced with a difficult choice."

The university's lawyers had made clear that doing otherwise would mean years of no football and the possibility of more sanctions, Erickson said.

"Of the two alternatives, it was best to accept the consent decrees that allow us to to continue football," Erickson said.

The alternative was "the death penalty," which would have ended the football program for at least a year.

Erickson acknowledged that he considered aspects of the NCAA sanctions "very heavy," but said accepting them allowed the university to move forward.

He said that he felt secure in his job and that he had the support of the majority of the board of trustees, despite strong criticism from some of them.

On Friday, one of Sandusky's victims announced through his lawyers that he would sue Penn State "for failing to protect him from sexual abuse."

Erickson told Schieffer the university had enough insurance coverage to settle that lawsuit and any others Sandusky's victims file.

"We hope to settle as many of these cases as quickly as we can," he said, adding that his goal was to prevent "dragging the victims through another round of court cases and litigation."

Erickson said that the success of Penn State's intercollegiate athletic programs had resulted in "parts of it becoming separate areas unto themselves" and that this attitude "wrapped itself into the rest of the university."

"We are looking into this," he assured.

Schieffer said later Erickson had side-stepped his question about whether Paterno had stayed too long, saying instead that people had to decide that for themselves.

He said he had ordered Paterno's statue removed from outside Beaver Stadium early July 22 "because it had become a lightning rod over the last eight months" and "an open wound for victims of child abuse across the nation."

The statue "remains in a safe place," Erickson said, refusing to commit the university to returning it to campus any time soon. The passage of time will likely judge Paterno's contributions to "our educational goals and aspirations," Erickson added.


Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472, aheavens@phillynews.com, or follow @alheavens at Twitter.

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