Penn State football coach Bill O’Brien meets with trustees as university weighs proposal to NCAA for reduction of sanctions

mdawson@centredaily.comJuly 13, 2013 

— Penn State may ask the NCAA to reduce some of its sanctions, university officials said Friday after football coach Bill O’Brien gave a private presentation to the board of trustees.

O’Brien addressed the trustees for more than an hour Friday morning behind closed doors during the board’s executive session at the Penn State Fayette branch campus. The presentation’s slides were visible from a hallway through several full-length glass-paned doors into the room where the session was held.

The specifics about the proposal were not available, and officials, including O’Brien, declined to go into details about his visit, which was initiated by the board.

But, one of the presentation slides had the heading “potential proposal to modify sanctions” and another had a heading concerning the impact of the scholarship reductions that are part of the sanctions.

Another slide read “Individual lawsuits do not help us!” with the words “do not” underlined and in capital letters.

That slide said the lawsuits would discourage the NCAA from working with Penn State to modify the consent decree. The lawsuits would result in “bad press,” the slide read.

The NCAA has not received a proposal from Penn State, said a spokeswoman for the organization, Emily Potter, who declined to comment.

O’Brien addressed a trustees crowd that included Anthony Lubrano, Adam Taliaferro, Ryan McCombie, and Peter Khoury — four of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit the family of Joe Paterno brought against the NCAA to reverse all the sanctions. Another plaintiff, trustee Alvin Clemens, was not there.

A source close to O’Brien said the coach offered his opinions to the trustees in his capacity as head of the football program, not providing his personal views about the lawsuits. The source said O’Brien indicated he has been hearing questions about the lawsuits from potential recruits and their parents.

Board Chairman Keith Masser acknowledged the proposal, but he was mum on specifics during a news conference after the board meeting Friday.

“We would like to do that at some point,” he said.

Earlier this year, Penn State trustee Paul Silvis said he was hopeful the NCAA would consider reducing the sanctions because of the progress the university had made on implementing the recommendations in Louis Freeh’s report. Silvis cited the work being done to implement the Freeh report recommendations.

As of Thursday, the Freeh recommendation implementation was almost finished, as the university said it had implemented 115 of the 119 recommendations.

After O’Brien’s presentation was over, a number of trustees sprang from their seats and gave him a standing ovation. One of those was Keith Eckel, who later praised O’Brien as a “great leader” who “sets a standard that we all should aspire to.”

As he was getting ready to leave the campus, O’Brien would only say that he was “just here to say hello to some people” and got into a Penn State van.

Trustees and administrators who came out of the room after the morning session in the morning were tight-lipped, too.

President Rodney Erickson didn’t respond when asked to comment about O’Brien’s appearance, and administrator Tom Poole said O’Brien “just wanted to see some folks.” Lubrano shook his head.

Penn State lawyer Frank Guadagnino declined to comment but said the session was “purely informational” and that it falls under the state Sunshine Law’s provision regarding informational conferences. Guadagnino said no action was taken.

O’Brien’s presentation comes one year to the day the university was rocked by the release of the Freeh report, which blamed senior university officials for concealing abuse allegations against Jerry Sandusky more than a decade ago.

The NCAA used the Freeh report’s findings in lieu of its own investigation and handed down severe sanctions a week and a half later.

O’Brien won numerous coach of the year awards after guiding the Nittany Lions to an 8-4 record in 2012, despite the team’s star running back leaving for Southern California and the kicker leaving for Texas.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett tried unsuccessfully to sue the NCAA to overturn the sanctions, accusing the organization of breaking federal antitrust laws. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit last month.

The Paterno family’s lawsuit seeks the same result and claims that the NCAA bypassed its rulebook when its leaders imposed the sanctions on Penn State.

A third suit, brought by state Sen. Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, and state Treasurer Rob McCord, seeks to keep Penn State’s $60 million fine in Pennsylvania. The fine was one of the NCAA penalties imposed on Penn State, and is to support educational or preventative measures related to child abuse.

Mike Dawson can be reached at 231-4616. Follow him on Twitter @MikeDawsonCDT.

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