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Erickson Faced Threat of Four-Year Death Penalty

Penn State president Rodney Erickson has been a controversial figure this week as his decision to accept unprecedented NCAA sanctions was not a popular one.  The alternative could have been worse.

Erickson faced criticism from several students and alumni following Monday’s announcement for working in relative secrecy and not putting up more of a fight. Newly elected trustee, Anthony Lubrano, spoke out against the decision, and several other board members were upset that Erickson had agreed to the sanctions without informing them. This even led to an impromptu Board of Trustees meeting last night although the final result was relatively uneventful.

While Erickson’s perceived lack of transparency can be called into question, he was in a lose-lose situation: either accept some of the most severe sanctions ever handed down from the NCAA or face a four year death penalty for the football program, according to an ESPN Outside The Lines report by Don Van Natta, Jr.

Van Natta finds that on July 17, less than a week after the release of the Freeh Report, NCAA president Mark Emmert informed Erickson via phone that many of the NCAA’s leaders thought a four-year suspension of the football program was appropriate. Facing this threat along with a formal NCAA investigation and a fine that would have exceeded the $60 million one issued on Monday, Erickson went to work in an attempt to avoid the death penalty.

While most trustees believed the process was not that far along and Erickson was crafting a response to the NCAA’s letter from November, he was really attempting to save the State College economy and meet head Bill O’Brien’s request of wanting to play football and wanting to do it without a television ban.

Chairwoman Karen Peetz was aware of these negotiations between Erickson and Emmert, but some trustees were not. Some believed that Erickson’s decision to remove Joe Paterno’s statue would gain sympathy from NCAA leadership without knowing that Erickson and Emmert had already reached an agreement.

While Erickon alluded to the threat of the death penalty in a Monday afternoon story published by the Centre Daily Times, the four-year number was just reported by Van Natta Wednesday afternoon. Emmert confirmed in a separate interview that a four year ban was indeed going to be the penalty before talks between him and Erickson began.

A one-year ban in 1987 absolutely crippled the Southern Methodist Football program that took a quarter-century to return to a bowl game. It’s scary to think about what four years could have done to Penn State.

Erickson’s decision and the unilateral way in which he went about it was not met with much approval. It is also not nearly as bad as what Emmert originally mentioned nine days ago.

About the Author

Drew Balis

Drew is a senior marketing major. This fall, he will be covering Penn State Football for Onward State. He is a huge Philadelphia sports fan and loves THON and Domonic Brown.


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