Members of Penn State's Board of Trustees put their support behind President Rodney Erickson Sunday night via a teleconference meant to house discussions over Erickson's decision to sign the consent decree between Penn State and the NCAA.
Many of the trustees -- markedly not including the outspoken newly elected alumni trustee Anthony Lubrano -- were in favor of the president's decision to sign the decree based off of his interactions with the National Collegiate Athletic Association prior to public release of the sanctions.
Erickson said he had been in contact with NCAA President Mark Emmert, who had indicated the only route for Penn State to avoid a multi-year death penalty would be to accept a consent agreement. Any leak of the potential sanctions would result in a multi-year death penalty, Erickson said.
According to the agreement, in order to avoid the death penalty, Penn State must accept the sanctions the NCAA brought down upon them -- a $60 million fine, a loss of 40 scholarships, a ban on postseason play for four years and a vacation of wins from 1998 to 2011.
Erickson said had a death penalty been implemented, the loss of football revenue would affect the 27 other varsity sports at Penn State, and would have a "drastic impact" on central Pennsylvania's economy.
Another reason he agreed to sign the consent decree was to comply with head football coach Bill O'Brien's and the team's wishes to play, and to play on television.
Also, Erickson said challenging the NCAA on the loss of a football program for several years would most likely send the university into a court battle. Gene Marsh, who Penn State hired to handle negotiations between Penn State and the NCAA, said that was a battle the university would probably lose.
Erickson said he was also concerned what actions the Big Ten Conference would take had Penn State not agreed to the consent decree.
Erickson said he hoped the consent decree would "provide a road map for [Penn State] to make changes and move forward."
"I believe when I signed the decree that it was the better of the two crushing alternatives in the most difficult decision I have had to make," he said, "and I stand by that decision today."
Erickson also said the consent decree states that the agreement can be reopened by mutual consent of the parties involved.
Penn State Vice President and General Counsel Steve Dunham announced during the conference call that Erickson did in fact have the legal authority to sign the consent decree on behalf of the university.
Prior to the meeting, it was not clear if a vote would be taken that would indicate the board's ratification of the binding consent decree or not.
Before Chairman of the Board Karen Peetz was able to make her opening statement, Lubrano asked that the conference call be terminated immediately due to lack of authority and ability to hold a vote.
According to the board's charter, a ten-day notice must be provided for the governing body to hold a public meeting. The bylaws, however, state that only three days are necessary to have a public meeting. Due to lack of consistency, Peetz said, no vote would be taken at the meeting.
Marsh, who has been a part of the NCAA committee on infractions for several years and was included in reviewing the discussions the NCAA had on the consent decree, said that he wanted to point out that Penn State voluntarily opted to be included in the NCAA and that it's the institution's president or chancellor who is responsible for all aspects of the athletic program.
Part of the consent decree charges the university with changing the "culture that allowed this activity to occur and realign in a sustainable fashion with the expected norms and values of intercollegiate athletics." Marsh also said that this "culture" issue will take more than a couple of years to manage.
When each trustee was given the opportunity to speak, a resounding degree of support was given to the president for the actions that he took in signing the consent decree. The trustees agreed that the decision Erickson made was not easy and that the university should move forward in its academia.
Lubrano was one of the only trustees who had an opposing viewpoint.
“As a trustee, I was excluded from the process,” he said on Erickson’s decision to sign the decree. “Yet our head coach football was consulted. To me, that seems ironic.”
During Gov. Tom Corbett's time to speak, he expressed that he felt the NCAA overstepped boundaries when handing down sanctions to Penn State, but didn't elaborate, adding that he, too, supported Erickson.
Trustee Ryan McCombie, who had presented an appeal to the NCAA sanctions, informed the teleconference population that he instructed his legal counsel to refrain from further prosecution until time has set in for a full review the situation.
With the overwhelming support from the trustees, Erickson thanked his colleagues and assured that the university is “going to be fine.”