STATE COLLEGE, PA (AP) – Penn State’s trustees may not like the NCAA’s unprecedented sanctions against the university’s football program, but they say the alternative — the so-called “death penalty” — would have been worse.
In their first joint statement since Penn State was hit with a $60 million fine, a four-year bowl game ban, reduced football scholarships and the forfeiture of 112 wins, trustees said Wednesday the NCAA punishment was “unfortunate” and “difficult.”
University spokesman David La Torre said the potential for a four-year ban on playing football was floated during discussions between Penn State President Rodney Erickson and NCAA officials.
The trustees met with Erickson on the subject at a State College hotel Wednesday and afterward issued their statement.
The penalty hasn’t been used since the NCAA suspended Southern Methodist University for the 1987 season. SMU then sat out the ’88 season on its own and has never fully recovered its status in college football.
Reporters were barred from the conference room where the Penn State trustees 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 Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant coach, was abusing children.
NCAA president Mark Emmert said this week that if a total football ban had been imposed, other penalties would have accompanied it.
“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.
An NCAA spokeswoman declined further comment Wednesday on negotiations with Penn State.
Many alumni and some trustees were incensed over the unprecedented NCAA penalty — which likely will cripple Penn State’s football team for years to come — and Penn State’s quick acceptance of it.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Wednesday that Gov. Tom Corbett said the penalties imposed on Penn State “go well beyond” those with responsibility for the handling of the sex abuse allegations against Sandusky.
“What’s important to note is the kids that are up there right now, whether they are students or the student-athletes, the members of that team or the members of any other team, had nothing to do with this. Nothing,” Corbett said. “And they are the ones that, unfortunately, are bearing the brunt of this. And that’s what I find difficult.”
A person with knowledge of the trustees’ meeting said earlier Wednesday that trustees were to discuss whether Erickson had the authority to agree to the sanctions without first getting the board’s approval. The person was not authorized to discuss the meeting and spoke on condition of anonymity.
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.”
The board statement made no reference to the propriety of what Erickson had done, saying trustees held a discussion but did not take any votes.
“The board finds the punitive sanctions difficult and the process with the NCAA unfortunate,” the statement said. “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.”
La Torre said Wednesday that Erickson had authority to act without the approval of the full board.