Spanier calls NCAA sanctions against PSU ‘wrong’

Graham Spanier. (CAROLYN KASTER / Associated Press, File)
Graham Spanier. (CAROLYN KASTER / Associated Press, File)
Posted: August 24, 2012

The NCAA's crippling sanctions against Pennsylvania State University were "unprecedented" and "wrong," the college's former president, Graham B. Spanier, said Thursday, adding that he would have fought harder against them.

In an interview with The Inquirer, the ex-university chief acknowledged the tough task his successor, Rodney Erickson, has faced in shepherding Penn State through the fallout from the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal.

But he suggested the university's decision to accept those punishments last month was a misstep. They included a $60 million fine, a four-year postseason ban, and the voiding of 13 years of Joe Paterno's football team wins.

"The NCAA sanctions go well beyond its authority," said Spanier, an ex-NCAA board chair. "What they did to Penn State is unprecedented. It was done without a hearing and due process. I believe it to be wrong."

Spanier made his statements on the second day of a media blitz in which he spoke out for the first time since his resignation in the wake of Sandusky's arrest.

He resigned on Nov. 9, the same day the university board of trustees fired Paterno.

In interviews released Wednesday by ABC News and the New Yorker magazine, Spanier sought to repair his reputation. He insisted he had no knowledge of Sandusky's sexual assaults on young boys and said several e-mails suggesting he knew of the allegations had been taken out of context.

Meanwhile, his attorneys blasted a university-backed investigation led by former FBI Director Louis Freeh. That probe found that Spanier and others at Penn State sought to bury Sandusky's crimes, fearing the damage publicity would do.

But Thursday's interview marked the first time Spanier has addressed Freeh's scathing criticism of his performance as the university's chief executive and his successor's handling of the worst crisis in Penn State's history.

"I greatly admire Rod Erickson," Spanier said. "He has been handed the reins of a situation that is very difficult, and he's trying his best to manage this."

In his report last month, Freeh said, "Spanier failed in his duties as president," and accused him of keeping information about the state's criminal investigation from the trustees.

"I did not downplay anything," Spanier responded Thursday. "I knew very little. I was told almost nothing."

Several board members quoted anonymously in Freeh's report painted Spanier as an administrator overconfident in his ability to manage a crisis and flippant when it came to his duty to report to trustees.

"Trustees expressed that Spanier 'filtered' issues in the best light of a desired outcome, showed trustees 'rainbows' but not 'rusty nails,' and 'scripted' or 'baked' issues, leaving no room to debate or confront Spanier even when disagreement arose," the Freeh report said.

On Thursday, Spanier called that portrayal "inaccurate and somewhat offensive" and said he had spoken to several board members who claimed they gave Freeh glowing endorsements of his administration. None of those appeared in Freeh's report, he noted.

"If they asked 430 people about me, I can't imagine there are more than a few that said anything pejorative about me," he said.

According to Freeh's report, Spanier and former university counsel Cynthia Baldwin were informed of the grand jury investigation into Sandusky in early 2010. But they did not brief the board until more than a year later. Spanier said he had limited information with which to brief the trustees.

In Thursday's interview, Spanier offered a slightly different recollection of his involvement in the grand jury investigation.

He said Baldwin had told him investigators were looking into a 2001 incident involving Sandusky and a boy who had been seen the assistant coach in a shower.

He said he was unaware that multiple Sandusky accusers had come forward, that Baldwin had sat in on the grand jury testimony of other Penn State administrators, or that state police had interviewed several other members of the athletic staff.

"I knew very little. The only thing I had to go on was the questions I was asked about by the grand jury," Spanier said. He added, referring to Baldwin: "I wish she would have said more if she knew more. I believe that she was doing what she felt was appropriate."

Many board members later reported they learned of Sandusky's arrest and of the arrests of then-athletic director Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, a retired vice president, in November through news reports. Though Spanier and his inner circle knew charges were imminent at least a week before they became public, "we had no idea about the scope of what was coming," he said. "We thought we had more time" to respond.

As for the NCAA sanctions, Spanier, who has served as chair of the association's board of directors and as a member of the association's executive committee, argued that the penalties violated the organization's bylaws. Typically, schools facing possible punishment undergo an investigation and have the opportunity to challenge any findings.

NCAA president Mark Emmert acknowledged last month the association bypassed its normal procedure with Penn State but cited the Freeh report as the basis for its decisions. That investigation was far more thorough than anything his organization could have done, he said.

Erickson later told university trustees he accepted the penalties without question because the NCAA had threatened to shut down Penn State's football program for several years.

"By accepting the Freeh report, they put themselves in a difficult situation with the NCAA," Spanier said, referring to university administrators. "I expect part of it is a desire to put this behind them and move on, but there are hundreds of thousands of people who aren't ready yet to move past it."

Asked why he waited until nine months after his resignation to speak out, Spanier said that after enduring months of accusations about his own culpability, he felt the need to set the record straight.

"I assumed that truth, justice, fairness, and reason would prevail," he said. "But, regrettably, I concluded more recently that it wasn't going to happen."


Contact Jeremy Roebuck at 267-564-5218, jroebuck@phillynews.com, or follow @jeremyrroebuck on Twitter.

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