PSU expected to ratify sanctions

The Penn State University board of trustees will hold a special meeting Sunday and is expected to formally ratify the consent decree of sanctions agreed to last month by university president Rodney Erickson and the NCAA, "Outside the Lines" has learned.

Board chairwoman Karen Peetz called the meeting "so that there can be no misunderstanding as to where we as the board stand."

Erickson and the NCAA signed a consent decree on July 23 that laid out a package of sanctions against the university and football program as a result of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. The sanctions include a $60 million fine, a four-year bowl ban, scholarship losses and the vacating of wins from 1998-2011.

The resolution the board will consider states "the process followed by the (NCAA) was unfortunate and the punitive sanctions are difficult," and refers to the consent decree as "binding."

The outcome of Sunday's meeting seems almost certain, sources told "Outside the Lines," because two straw polls about whether to appeal the sanctions were taken by a quorum of trustees during a conference call Tuesday.

That call may have constituted an illegal board meeting, given the votes taken, the number of trustees present and the lack of public notice given about the call -- a requirement of the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act.

Only a few of the more than 20 trustees on the Tuesday call said they wished to appeal the NCAA sanctions.

Trustee Ryan J. McCombie filed an appeal to the NCAA over the sanctions on Monday. At least three other trustees, including Anthony Lubrano, supported that appeal, which said that the consent decree should be "null and void" because Erickson "lacked the legal authority" to enter into such an agreement without the full board's approval.

The NCAA has said the penalties cannot be appealed.

Multiple sources have said the appeal is a precursor to a federal lawsuit asking a judge to invalidate the sanctions, because trustees expect the NCAA to reject the appeal. Attorneys for the four trustees within a week will prepare a legal opinion about whether Erickson had authority to act unilaterally. Should that opinion state he did not have such authority, the trustees say they will file a federal lawsuit in Indianapolis (home of the NCAA) or Philadelphia.

Peetz, in calling for a special meeting Sunday, told trustees: "We have heard from President Erickson and from our legal team. We have had an opportunity to speak our minds. I appreciate everyone's candor and your sincere and heartfelt comments. However, it is now time to put this matter to rest and to move on. As I said in my opening remarks on Tuesday evening, we need a laser focus on the future of the university. We need to be unified and we need to work together."

Tuesday's call lasted about two hours and was very contentious, sources said, as trustees and legal counsel debated the merits of appealing to the NCAA.

Maribeth Roman Schmidt, spokesperson for the group,
Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, issued this statement Friday: "Nothing less than a complete and total rejection of the baseless NCAA consent decree will be acceptable when the Trustees meet to vote this Sunday. We view this call for a meeting as an acknowledgment that Rod Erickson did not indeed have authority to sign it."

A person with knowledge of the discussion said Gene Marsh, an attorney who negotiated the deal with the NCAA on behalf of Penn State, told trustees that the sanctions were not appealable by any single person based on NCAA bylaws.

Marsh could not be reached for comment.

Penn State football coach Bill O'Brien told USA Today on Thursday that it's time to move on.

"We're very, very mindful of what happened here," he told the newspaper. "But it's time, in my opinion -- this is just my opinion -- it's time to stop the dour attitude. It's time to think of ways to help us through this. We all have to come together and realize why we're in the position we're in. We have to. We have to stop arguing about it. We have to move forward."