Two Penn State trustees broke from the party line Tuesday in an interview with USA Today, with one saying he was surprised by the conclusions in the Freeh report and the other saying they were “speculation.”
The comments by Keith Eckel and board Chairman Keith Masser, respectively, ignited a fresh round of anti-Freeh report sentiment, most namely from the family of the late coach Joe Paterno, who pounced on the comments and called the remarks “a critically important development.”
Masser and Eckel told USA Today’s editorial board they do not endorse the key findings of the Freeh report that Paterno, former university President Graham Spanier and former administrators Tim Curley and Gary Schultz concealed abuse allegations against Jerry Sandusky. Spanier, Curley and Schultz are facing obstruction of justice, perjury and related charges stemming from a grand jury’s investigation into Sandusky.
According to the news report, Masser said the Freeh report’s conclusions were “speculative” and that the “courts decide on the cover-up.” But the news report said the two trustees were uncomfortable addressing those conclusions.
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Soon after the Freeh report was released a year ago, trustees Karen Peetz and Ken Frazier accepted full responsibility for Penn State’s failures that led to Sandusky’s abuse of children on campus. But trustees have not taken any formal action on the Freeh report, such as voting to accept or reject it.
For the Paterno family, Masser’s and Eckel’s reported comments apparently were music to their ears, as the family released a statement.
“It is a step forward that members of the board are publicly backing away from Freeh’s central allegations,” the family’s statement said in part. “Unfortunately, the NCAA based their unprecedented penalties against Penn State entirely on the Freeh report. With the credibility of the report eroding on a daily basis, it is imperative that the NCAA revisit their actions.”
The alumni group Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship went a step further and used a metaphor to express its sarcasm.
“We must be in the Twilight Zone,” a statement from the group read.
It went on: “The trustees’ yearlong silence on the Freeh conclusions reeks of disengagement, fiduciary irresponsibility and poor leadership. Where was the trustees’ defense of Penn State when it was needed most?”
The Paternos have filed a lawsuit against the NCAA to overturn the sanctions that include a $60 million fine, a four-year bowl game ban and scholarship reductions. They’re joined in the lawsuit by several trustees, former Nittany Lions, coaches and professors.
USA Today re-reported on Tuesday what the Centre Daily Times broke last week: that the university is considering asking the NCAA to modify the sanctions.
Bill O’Brien paid a visit to the trustees meeting in southwestern Pennsylvania, where he gave a closed-door presentation about the proposal. O’Brien’s presentation had a slide that referenced lawsuits against the NCAA, saying they are not helpful.