excerpted from Dan Van Natta, ESPN
Only Peetz and her executive committee were told about the consent decree or that sanctions were imminent. Those trustees did not tell their colleagues. This was by necessity, university officials say. The NCAA had warned Penn State that if there was a leak about proposed sanctions to the media, the discussions would end and the death penalty would be all but certain.
On Sunday, July 22, workers arrived at the Paterno statue before dawn. By 8:40 a.m., the statue was removed and carted by forklift inside Beaver Stadium. A trustee said hopefully that morning, “Maybe this will help us with the NCAA. It shows that we are moving on.” But minutes later, the NCAA issued a news release that at 9 a.m. the next day in Indianapolis, Emmert and Ray would announce sanctions against Penn State. “Unprecedented” sanctions, the media reported.
“I can’t believe this s—,” said the trustee. “No one told me a damn thing.”
At the news conference, Emmert outlined the sanctions and expressed hope that they would be both punitive and “corrective,” helping Penn State change its “football first” culture, which he said had allowed a sexual predator to run amok for a decade. Copies of the consent decree made public credited Penn State for commissioning the Freeh report and for its reaction to the findings. “Acknowledging these and other factors,” it read, “the NCAA does not deem the so-called ‘death penalty’ to be appropriate.”
It was co-signed by Emmert and Erickson.
So in the end, a negotiation did occur. It just didn’t much involve the university’s stewards, the board of trustees. In the aftermath of the Freeh report, Peetz, vice chairman of The Bank of New York Mellon, says the board is committed to changing its makeup and getting off the sidelines. Erickson will retire inside a year. Public funding for universities is declining. The NCAA has put Penn State’s athletic program, including football, under the watch of an athletics integrity monitor, former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell. It’s hard to argue a more effective board that’s ready to move on wouldn’t benefit everyone.
Yet some trustees see little positive in moving forward with Penn State football so changed. Some trustees argue that the package of sanctions was worse than the death penalty. Some remain furious at Erickson. The Freeh group had criticized the board for knowing little about the Sandusky matter and doing even less. And now, when it came to one of the biggest financial decisions in Penn State’s history, a majority of the trustees had no idea that Erickson and lawyers were hammering out the agreement. At a three-hour discussion on July 25, trustees demanded answers for the lack of communication, and Erickson and Marsh explained the NCAA demands. Marsh repeated his analogy that it was like “a cram-down,” which some trustees later said made sense to them. Afterward, the board released a statement standing by Erickson and saying that if the penalties had not been accepted, the outcome would have been far more Draconian.
Trustees who remain angry are mad at themselves too. Several say the board should not have tacitly accepted the Freeh report’s findings within hours of its release. The circumstances have a handful of trustees discussing how to overturn the decree in court. (On Aug. 3, the Paterno family formally challenged the consent decree, filing an intent to appeal with the NCAA.) “This was such overkill,” one trustee says. “It’s like walking around with a dagger in you. Emmert and the NCAA are basically ruining this university. They are destroying the school.”
Indeed, much of the fury is directed at Emmert, who in the end may actually have kept the football program on the field. “What I have seen of him and heard of him, I just can’t stand the guy,” one trustee says, noting Emmert’s comfort roaming the stage during the July 23 presser and his media availability afterward.
Some trustees complain that the NCAA used sanctions as an opportunity for university presidents to exact revenge: The Penn State Way of piling up victories while graduating players at the highest levels was something their own schools could not do.
“Mark Emmert showed himself to be a sanctimonious hypocrite,” says Anthony Lubrano, a trustee who joined the board in July and is an unabashed Paterno supporter. “Joe Paterno had more integrity in his little finger than Emmert has in his whole body.”
For her part, Peetz, the board chair, would not discuss the simmering anger of some trustees. Through a spokesman, she said, “The decision by President Erickson to sign the consent decree was a painful one, but it was clear the alternative was far more painful. The board supports the decisions that have been made, and we are focusing on the future. It is time to move forward