Board of Trustees Throw Support Behind Erickson
It may have been scripted, but the message was clear — President Rodney Erickson has the overwhelming support of the Board of Trustees in his actions surrounding the NCAA consent decree.
Amid heavy criticism from the Penn State community at large, the Board of Trustees met via teleconference Sunday evening to discuss the process by which the University came to accept the NCAA sanctions, and specifically President Erickson’s role in reaching that agreement.
The meeting did not come without some initial controversy. Before Chairwoman Karen Peetz began her opening statement, Trustees Anthony Lubrano and Joel Myers motioned to end the meeting immediately, citing the Sunshine Act, which requires all official board meetings be scheduled with at least ten days advance notice to the public. Peetz said that she would address this issue in her statement, and the meeting began without additional dissent.
Peetz stressed that although full board approval was not necessary to accept the NCAA sanctions, she wanted to hold this meeting to “clear up” some issues board members have brought to light, including President Erickson’s authority to sign the agreement on his own accord. “I absolutely support President Erickson and his decision to accept the consent agreement,” Peetz said. “And I am confident that most of the board accepts the decree as well.” Peetz also said that because no vote would be taken, this did not constitute on “official” board meeting, but would only serve as an informative session.
NCAA compliance expert Gene Marsh spoke first. Marsh served as a liaison between the NCAA and Penn State, and his actions leading up to the consent agreement have been chronicled in this play-by-play by ESPN. Marsh stressed that Penn State was given two options: Either accept the harsh sanctions or face a multi-year death penalty. Marsh said that the majority of the NCAA compliance board favored a multi-year program shutdown for Penn State, not because of bylaw or rule violations, but because of a toxic culture that Penn State supposedly subscribes to.
Marsh also said that it “wouldn’t make sense” to wait for the Curley/Shultz perjury trials to play out, because the NCAA acts under a different burden of proof than the legal system. “The NCAA infractions committee has a ‘lower burden of proof than civil courts,'” Marsh said. “It’s a very low standard.”
President Erickson backed up Marsh’s claims, and said, “The NCAA wanted blood.”
“This was the toughest decision I had to make in my 40 year career,” Erickson said. “Challenging the NCAA would have meant years in court with no football…I stand by that decision.”
New University Counsel Steve Dunham spoke next to the point questioning Erickson’s authority to sign the consent decree, saying that the University charter gives the President express consent to sign legal agreements without Board approval.
From there, each of the Board members in attendance gave statements in alphabetical order in a roll-call form. Nearly every trustee expressed their unconditional support to President Erickson, although many said they had reservations as to how the NCAA conducted their business.
Governor Tom Corbett was phoned in to the meeting, and acted in step with the rest of the trustees. “Penn State is, has been, and will be a world class learning institution,” Corbett said. “Clearly mistakes have been made…President Erickson correctly took the lesser of two punishments.” Corbett also added that he believed “the NCAA overstepped their authority,” but said “that’s an argument for another day.”
Newly elected alumni trustee Anthony Lubrano was the lone outspoken critic, and said, “I have the utmost respect for President Erickson…however I am deeply disappointed in the process.”
Lubrano was upset that he was not briefed on the consent decree before it was signed. “The football coach was consulted, but the board wasn’t. That seems rather ironic,” he said.
Not one to miss an opportunity to praise the late football coach Joe Paterno, Lubrano added, “Joe Paterno had more integrity in his little finger than the NCAA President [Mark Emmert] has in his entire body.” Lubrano also said that the fact that Penn State needs an academic integrity monitor is “preposterous.”
The rest of the trustees stayed in lockstep in declaring their praise for President Erickson. Trustee Adam Taliaferro said as much, but added, “I disagree with the NCAA about our culture. One person does not make a culture…a group of people does not make a culture. The students are what make the Penn State culture, and soon the NCAA will see what the Penn State culture is all about.”
The meeting lasted just under two hours, with President Erickson concluding, “We’re gonna be fine.”
Indeed, we will.