Penn State renewed its vows to the NCAA consent decree Wednesday and threw its support behind a proposed settlement to keep $60 million in fines levied against the university from leaving the state.
The decisions came at a contentious trustees meeting Wednesday morning that saw a faction on the board ask for an all-out attack of the consent decree — the agreement with the NCAA that ushered in the fine and other sanctions — only to be rebuffed.
Despite protests from alumni-elected trustees, who have campaigned against the sanctions, the board voted 19-8 to support a possible settlement that honors the university’s commitment to the consent decree.
Penn State had been asked by state officials and the NCAA to take a position on talks to settle dual lawsuits filed over the Endowment Act, the Pennsylvania law that seeks to control how the fine money is spent.
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It prompted the hastily scheduled phone conference Wednesday and led to some heated back-and-forth exchanges by board members.
Six alumni-elected trustees and dozens of supporters gathered at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel to listen in on the meeting. Sue and Jay Paterno, as well as a number of former Penn State football players under late coach Joe Paterno, were among those in attendance.
At the heart of the issue were two sentences in the proposed resolution: “For the past two years, the university, with appropriate vigor, has complied with the terms of the consent decree, and the university remains committed to full compliance with the consent decree as amended from time to time. Any settlement should be consistent with this commitment.”
The alumni-elected trustees have said they view the settlement as a chance for a “do-over” on the consent decree. They’ve supported their case by pointing to an April ruling in state Sen. Jake Corman’s lawsuit against the NCAA that challenged the validity of the agreement.
It led them Wednesday to present an alternative plan for how to handle the negotiations. They would demand a number of things, including the acknowledgment that the Freeh report was “an insufficient basis for the consent decree” and that Jerry Sandusky was “solely responsible” for his crimes.
They also want all the remaining sanctions overturned.
“We have undergone incredible pain and suffering at this university and immense financial damage and, worse, reputational damage,” said Al Lord, an alumni-elected trustee. “And it’s time for the NCAA to recognize this is a stand-alone organization that can act on its own, and act once in a while with a backbone.”
But the larger board was not swayed and remained largely united on how to handle the negotiations.
“The crux of the issue is do we, two years after the consent decree was entered, reverse course of the university’s compliance with the consent decree and at this point attack it, attempt to terminate it, move to invalidate it?” trustee Richard Dandrea said. “I think we do have a clear issue and I think we have a clear understanding of what that means.”
Trustee Keith Eckel said the end of the sanctions is in sight if the university continues to comply, but that a legal battle could drag on well into the future.
“I believe it would be a major mistake to turn back now,” he said.
Adam Taliaferro, who has frequently sided with his fellow alumni-elected trustees, broke away from the bloc Wednesday in abstaining from the vote.
He took to Twitter later, saying, “this Board has the ability 2 come together if all egos went out the window & we just talked respectfully 2 each other.”
Student trustee Allison Goldstein, an appointee of Gov. Tom Corbett, also abstained.
Still, trustee Anthony Lubrano, who voted against the resolution, made it clear Wednesday that he’s not giving up the fight to have the sanctions removed from Penn State’s record.
“If I’m Sen. (Jake) Corman or Treasurer Rob McCord, I take note, particularly since the alumni who elect the trustees represent a 600,000 (strong group), many of whom live in Centre County,” Lubrano said.
The passion of some of those alumni was evident Wednesday.
They gave several ovations and at one point were scolded by trustee Edward Hintz, who was participating over the phone, for laughing during the meeting.
“After two and a half years, the passion is strong as ever,” said Franco Harris, one of a number of former Penn State football players who attended the meeting. “People think we are more quiet, that it’s died down, and it hasn’t.
“Looking at what happened today just reveals to us once again what we are facing,” Harris said. “The mentality we are facing, the misdirection of leadership we are facing, makes our resolve that much stronger.