PSU trustees passed on reform in 2004

Since Thursday's release of the Freeh report, most attention has been focused on the four senior Penn State officials -- Graham Spanier, Gary Schultz, Tim Curley and Joe Paterno -- deemed complicit in a major cover-up surrounding the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. While the school's board of trustees, which hired Louis Freeh and his investigative team, also has taken a beating for its failings, the anger seems to be directed elsewhere.

Tuesday night's report by colleague Don Van Natta Jr. puts the trustees back in the crosshairs. Van Natta reports that in November 2004, seven Penn State trustees proposed major reforms that would have strengthened their power over Spanier, then the university president, and other top officials such as Paterno. But the board never voted on the proposals. Three current trustees told Van Natta that Spanier and former board chair Cynthia Baldwin stopped the proposal from proceeding.

Joel Myers, a longtime trustee, said the Freeh investigators told him that if the good-governance proposal had been adopted by the board back in 2004, "This [crisis] could have been avoided."

Avoided is probably the wrong word as Sandusky committed many of his crimes before 2004 and Freeh's group showed evidence that top Penn State officials were aware of allegations as far back as 1998. But the reforms could have put a stop to things long before Sandusky's arrest last November.

From Van Natta's report:

"It was a big, missed opportunity," said Al Clemens, another longtime trustee. "Back in 2004, we just knew there wasn't enough accountability, and it seemed like a reasonable step to try to protect the university. It seemed like the right thing to do."

After the good-governance proposal was discussed in a private board session in 2004, at least four young boys were sexually abused by Sandusky. Two trustees who spoke on condition of anonymity said they fear the board's failure to adopt the good-governance proposal will be used by victims' lawyers in the negligence lawsuits against Penn State.

"This could increase our liability," a current trustee said, "possibly by millions."

The other key point is that Freeh's report had no mention of the terminated proposal. Although Freeh came down hard on the board in general terms, criticizing trustees for creating a culture of non-accountability, it seems odd he would have omitted such an important element from an otherwise thorough report.

This certainly raises more questions about the trustees, none of whom have resigned since the report came out, as well as Freeh and his investigative team.

Baldwin's attorney claims she didn't interfere with the board's consideration of the good-governance proposal.

Meanwhile, Penn State says it will respond within days to the letter NCAA president Mark Emmert sent to the school after the scandal broke in November. Emmert on Monday told PBS that major sanctions are very much on the table for Penn State football and sounded like a man poised to act.

"Let's wait for this process to unfold," Penn State president Rodney Erickson told the Associated Press. "President Emmert has said the NCAA will take a deliberate and deliberative process in addressing this, so I don't think we should jump to any conclusions at this point."

While many are calling for the NCAA to sanction Penn State for the 2012 season, such a move seems highly unlikely because of the protracted nature of infractions cases. It's more likely penalties from the NCAA would apply to 2013 and beyond than 2012.