Penn State marks 1-year anniversary of NCAA sanctions

mdawson@centredaily.comJuly 23, 2013 

— It’s been one year since arguably the worst day in Penn State athletics history.

A year ago Tuesday, the NCAA handed down crushing sanctions against the university as punishment for the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal and alleged cover-up by senior administrators and the football coach to hide the allegations. Students who gathered in the HUB to watch the press conference announcing the sanctions were stunned.

They’d never expected something like it. Some cried.

When it was over, Penn State learned its fate: a $60 million fine, a four-year bowl ban, scholarship reductions, and players being allowed unrestricted transfers to other schools were among the penalties. The NCAA’s top two leaders at the time, President Mark Emmert and Executive Committee Chairman Ed Ray, are on the record with contradicting statements about whether the so-called death penalty was on or off the table.

In the year since the sanctions, and amid alumni furor over what some see as a university that caved in to the NCAA, Penn State has taken on reforms and made other changes that reflect its “steadfast and ongoing commitment to integrity and ethical conduct,” President Rodney Erickson said.

For one, the university has implemented 115 of the 119 recommendations in the Freeh report, which the NCAA used in lieu of its investigation to levy the sanctions. Penn State’s board of trustees has changed its governance structure, such as removing the president’s and governor’s voting powers and imposing 12-year term limits.

Some alumni, and the contingent of reform-minded trustees, think the university hasn’t done enough and want to see more — such as a smaller board and changing the way business and industry trustees are selected.

If this month’s board meeting was any indication, the trustees could knock heads over governance changes.

The university has restricted access to places like Rec Hall and the Natatorium for only those with Penn State ID cards. The university has hired a chief compliance officer and an athletics integrity coordinator.

Those movements have been noted by former Sen. George Mitchell, who was appointed by the NCAA to oversee the university’s process of implementing the Freeh recommendations. Mitchell has given Penn State glowing reports, and a fourth one is due in August, as is a year-in-review report.

“There still is more to be done, but we are pleased that our efforts are being praised by Sen. George Mitchell and by other external entities that have an interest in our progress,” Erickson said.

Perhaps it’d be Mitchell who would ask the NCAA to ease up on the sanctions.

Coach Bill O’Brien gave the trustees a presentation at the last board meeting, behind closed doors, that dealt with how the football team has handled the sanctions.

His PowerPoint presentation showed there’s some kind of plan to ask the NCAA for a break. His presentation slides seemed to point to the scholarship limits on his team, but university officials haven’t spoken publicly about their plan to date.

Or, perhaps the sanctions could be reversed by a Pennsylvania judge.

The family of late coach Joe Paterno, along with trustees, former football coaches and players, and professors, sued the NCAA in the hope of stopping them. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett tried to do the same, but a federal judge didn’t buy his arguments that the NCAA violated federal antitrust law and tossed his lawsuit out.

The Paterno family supporters are expecting the NCAA to come back this week, possibly Tuesday, with a motion to dismiss their lawsuit.

A judge from Potter County, John B. Leete, has been assigned to the case that would be litigated in Centre County if it survives the expected dismissal motion.

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

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