UNIVERSITY PARK — Questioning Penn State President Rodney Erickson’s authority to accept the sanctions the NCAA brought down on the university in July, several trustees are appealing penalties they say are “excessive and unreasonable.”
Ryan McCombie, a State College resident and newly elected board member, is leading the effort, which includes asking the NCAA for a chance to submit an appeal in writing and argue the case in person before the Infractions Appeals Committee.
“The NCAA violated the fundamental procedural due process rights of the Appellants, as well as The Pennsylvania State University, by completely failing to follow its own established rules and procedures, by failing to have an investigation conducted by members of the enforcement staff or outside counsel familiar with the NCAA’s investigative standards... and by relaying upon the results of an internal investigation (the Freeh Report) that was never intended as a foundational platform for punitive action by the NCAA,” reads the letter from attorney Paul V. Kelly, of Boston, to the NCAA.
Anthony Lubrano, another newly elected trustee, is supporting McCombie’s initiative.
“This is going to be a challenge for us on many levels, and we’ll just have to work through those challenges,” Lubrano said.
He said there was a 14-day window from the time the NCAA decision was announced to file the appeal.
The letter from Kelly, dated Monday, says the board never gave Penn State President Rodney Erickson the authority to accept the NCAA sanctions and argues that authority was needed.
Erickson signed off on the $60 million penalty, four-year bowl ban, drop in the number of football scholarships the university can offer and vacating of the football team’s wins from 1998 to 2011.
The NCAA leaders said the penalties were based on the findings of Louis Freeh, whose investigation for the university concluded that former leaders, including Joe Paterno, had conspired to hide Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of boys on university property. According to the NCAA, failure to comply with the sanctions during the five-year probationary period could mean more severe penalties.
The Paterno family and the other administrators named in the report vehemently deny the idea of a cover-up and say there isn’t evidence to support Freeh’s conclusions.
Penn State spokesman David La Torre declined to comment Monday, but has previously said that board approval was not needed for the president to accept the sanctions.
The board also issued a statement July 25 following a closed-door meeting of members to discuss the NCAA sanctions. That statement said in part, “The (b)oard finds the punitive sanctions difficult and the process with the NCAA unfortunate. But as we understand it, the alternatives were worse as confirmed by NCAA President Mark Emmert’s recent statement that Penn State was likely facing a multi-year death sentence.”
McCombie could not be reached for comment. A letter from him to board members obtained by the Centre Daily Times said the Freeh report was treated as a legal hearing when it wasn’t — those spoken with weren’t under oath and key witnesses weren’t interviewed.
Despite that, he said, the board stood by while the university accepted the NCAA penalties based on the report.
“These are grave mistakes that inflict undue harm on the entire Penn State community, in addition to compromising the rights of numerous individuals,” the letter reads.
It is unclear what the next step will be. On Friday, the Paterno family filed a similar intent to appeal with the NCAA and asked for a chance to argue the case. An NCAA spokesman said that, “The Penn State sanctions are not subject to appeal.” When reached for comment Monday, a spokesman said that remains the same.
Anne Danahy can be reached at 231-4648. Follow her on Twitter @AnneDanahy.