Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Penn State Board of Trustees and the NCAA: "Punitive" Sanctions and "Unfortunate" Process Choices

On Wednesday July 25, 2012, the Penn State Board of Trustees met for discussion in a non-scheduled and informal session.  The object was a consideration, after the fact, of the NCAA sanctions and the decision to accede to them.  "A person who was not authorized to talk about the meeting and spoke on the condition of anonymity told AP the trustees were to confront Erickson over his acceptance of NCAA sanctions that will cost Penn State tens of millions of dollars and likely cripple its football team for years." Report: Penn State trustees question signing of NCAA decree, USA Today Sport, July 25, 2012.

(From Andrew J. Rohterham, A Penn State Trustee Searches for Answers, Time, Nov. 15, 2011)

What emerged appears to be reassuring but surprising:  the board appears to consider the sanctions punitive, the board considers that the decision itself might suffer from procedural infirmities, and the board conceded that in the face of procedural regularities their choices were unpalatable.  Decide for yourselves.  The official statement from the Board of Trustees is set out below along with portions of a news report of the event published in the Miami Herald.

Following is a statement issued from the Board of Trustees tonight:

The Penn State Board of Trustees met for a discussion tonight.  A vote was not required and none was taken.  The Board finds the punitive sanctions difficult and the process with the NCAA unfortunate.  But as we understand it, the alternatives were worse as confirmed by NCAA President Mark Emmert’s recent statement that Penn State was likely facing a multi-year death sentence.  The University and Board resolve to move forward together to recognize the historical excellence in Penn State’s academic and athletic programs.  We anticipate and look forward to demonstrating our outstanding performance in complying with the sanctions.  We continue to recognize the important role that intercollegiate athletics provides for our student athletes and the wider University community as we strive to appropriately balance academic and athletic accomplishments. Penn State will remain a world-class educational institution of which our students, faculty, staff and alumni can be justifiably proud.   The commitment demonstrated by our student athletes in recent days embodies all that is good about Penn State and we look forward to unprecedented support by the Nittany nation when we take the field this fall.

The statement has been posted on the Board of Trustees website at and is also on the Progress website.

Writing for the Associated Press, the article by Michael Rubinkam and Mark Scolforo stated, in part:

Penn State faced the threat of a four-year ban on playing football before the NCAA issued its punishment this week for how it handled the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal, a university spokesman said Wednesday.

. . . .

The school trustees met on the subject at State College hotel Wednesday, and afterward issued a statement calling the NCAA punishment "unfortunate" but better than the alternatives. Reporters were barred from the conference room where they met, and trustees avoided them after the meeting broke up.

The potential for a four-year ban, first reported by ESPN, showed how high the stakes were as college sports' governing body considered how to respond to an internal school investigation by former FBI Director Louis Freeh that found former coach Joe Paterno and three other top college officials helped conceal reports that Sandusky was abusing children.

. . . .

"If the death penalty were to be imposed, I'm quite sure that the executive committee and I ... would not have agreed to just the death penalty. It would have included other penalties as well," Emmert said as the sanctions were unveiled.

Many alumni, and some trustees, have expressed dismay at the NCAA action, which will cost Penn State tens of millions of dollars and likely cripple its football team for years to come.

Some trustees had expressed concern that Erickson may have violated a board rule that says the board must authorize the signing of "contracts, legal documents, and other obligations," but the board statement made no reference to that, saying they held a discussion but did not take any votes. (From Michael Rubinkam and Mark Scolforo, Penn State President Says 4 Year Ban Was Floated, The Miami Herald, July 25, 2012 )

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