Penn State board backs its president on sanctions

Posted: August 13, 2012

Pennsylvania State University trustees voiced overwhelming support Sunday night for the decision by university President Rodney Erickson's to sign an NCAA consent decree that imposes harsh sanctions on the university following the Jerry Sandusky child-abuse scandal.

While a majority of the board members were sharply critical of the severity of the penalties, nearly all endorsed Erickson's actions and said it was important to look toward the future.

"It is my belief that we must move forward," said board member Keith W. Eckel. "It is critical that we unite as one behind the courageous leadership of our president, Rod Erickson, indeed, as he leads this great university in a time of unprecedented challenge."

The board had been expected to take a formal vote on accepting the sanctions, but instead it gave informal support to Erickson in a telephone conference call. The public was able to listen in, online.

The consent decree, which Erickson signed last month, includes a $60 million fine, a four-year postseason ban on football, the vacating all the team's wins from 1998 through last year, and the cutting of football scholarships.

Officials said the NCAA had arrived at the sanctions partly as a result of the scathing report Louis Freeh, a former FBI director, prepared based on the indepedent investigation he led of the university's handling of allegations against Sandusky. The former assistant football coach was convicted in June of sexually molesting 10 boys.

Freeh's report concluded that the most powerful officials at Penn State had failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized.

At the outset of Sunday's special, 5 p.m. meeting, trustee chairwoman Karen Peetz said she had planned a sanction-ratification vote in response to concerns raised by a few board members about the content of the agreement and Erickson's authority to sign it.

While Peetz said a ratification was not legally necessary, "the leadership of the board wanted to publicly demonstrate the board's support of President Erickson and the university's commitment to fully perform and comply with the consent decree."

She said a vote no longer was "as necessary" because board member Ryan J. McCombie, who last week said he would attempt to appeal the sanctions and challenge Erickson's actions, had instructed his lawyer Saturday not to take further action.

Furthermore, Peetz said, a board vote would not be taken Sunday because of "technical legal issue" surrounding an inconsistency in the advance notification requirements for board meetings. The Sunday meeting was announced Thursday. Board bylaws call for three days' notice for board meetings, but university's charter requires 10 days written notice.

A few board members had raised concerns about the notification issue before Peetz spoke.

During the session, university officials and their advisors reviewed for the public the steps that Erickson had taken in consultation with the board leaders and then described the university's efforts to modify the NCAA sanctions.

It was clear, they said, that the alternative to signing the consent decree was the so-called "death penalty," which would have shut down Penn State's football program.

In place of the vote, board members were asked for comments.

Nearly all 32 members participated in the conference call, and Peetz went down the roster and allowed each to speak.

Member Anthony Lubrano, who had complained in the past that the full board was not consulted before the Erickson signed the agreement, said: "Joe Paterno has more integrity in his little finger than the NCAA president has in his entire body."

An NCAA spokesman has said the sanctions were "not subject to appeal."

Contact Martha Woodall at 215-854-2789 or at

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