STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Penn State trustees Sunday ended a two-day meeting on a positive note, swapping ideas about how the university’s looming football season opener could be used as the vehicle for a public-relations extravaganza.
A presentation by the board’s hired public relations consultant sparked a spontaneous discussion about the image-rebuilding potential of the Sept. 1 home game against Ohio University, which trustees said is likely to draw disproportionately heavy national media attention in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
Anthony Lubrano and several fellow trustees urged displaying messages on the scoreboard, buying advertisements and other gimmicks during the game to remind fans not only of Penn State’s athletic milestones, but its solid academic reputation.
“When they walk into the stadium why not prominently display those successes?” Lubrano asked the board. “This isn’t football, we’re an academic institution. Why not display that?”
“We’ll have a captive audience,” said trustee Kenneth Frazier.
Lubrano brought up the Ohio game after New York public-relations executive Richard Edelman outlined his firm’s multifaceted campaign to repair the university’s image. It includes a “Faces of Penn State” piece that will promote individual students, professors and alumni on posters, Internet postings and a video slated to debut during the game.
Trustees also discussed ongoing preparations to recruit a successor to Penn State President Rodney Erickson, who plans to step down when his present contract expires on June 30, 2014.
The search for the next president is slated to begin in early 2013 with the goal of selecting Erickson’s successor by early 2014. Erickson said he would not participate in the search but urged the trustees to “cast your net broadly” and seek input from diverse sources including students, faculty and alumni.
“I think this could well be one of the most defining activities of the university that will take place for many years to come,” said Erickson, who was appointed to succeed Graham Spanier after the trustees forced him out in November for his handling of the Sandusky scandal.
Sandusky, a longtime Penn State assistant football coach, was convicted in June on 45 counts of abusing 10 boys, some on the Penn State campus. He is in jail, awaiting sentencing.
On Friday, a young man whose 2009 allegations of sexual abuse led to the Penn State scandal and Sandusky’s convictions filed a lawsuit against Penn State. Lawyers for other alleged victims have also suggested that they plan legal action.
Former Penn State administrator Gary Schultz and athletic director Tim Curley, who is on leave, have pleaded innocent to charges of perjury and failure to report suspected child abuse. They are awaiting trial.
Longtime football coach Joe Paterno, who also was ousted, died of lung cancer in January. Neither he nor Spanier was charged.
On multiple fronts, the trustees have their work cut out for them. But board chairwoman Karen Peetz sought to put the best face on the situation as the trustees headed home two hours earlier than scheduled.
“We’ve been through a lot in the last two months, but I think what you can feel is the momentum and the focus on the future and the focus on students,” she said.
Discussion was limited Sunday about the implementation of changes recommended in a report from former FBI director Louis Freeh, which concluded that top university officials concealed information about sexual abuse allegations against Sandusky to avoid bad publicity.
Also stirring little discussion was an athletic integrity agreement with the NCAA, whose sanctions against Penn State in the case included a $60 million fine and a four-year bowl-game ban.
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