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Penn State Board of Trustees Will Discuss NCAA Consent Decree on Sunday

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Penn State Live has announced that the Penn State Board of Trustees will hold a special teleconference on Sunday, August 12th to discuss ratifying the Consent Decree signed by Penn State President Rodney Erickson and NCAA President Mark Emmert on July 23, 2012. The Consent Decree is, of course, the document that delineates the "unprecedented" sanctions handed down by Emmert and agreed to by Erickson that imposed a $60 million fine, a four--year bowl ban, and dramatic scholarship reductions that will hamstring the program (and, thus, Penn State's Athletic Department itself) for close to a decade.

Since the announcement of the sanctions, President Erickson and the Penn State administration have come under fire by some alumni groups, including several individual members of the Board of Trustees who were upset that the full Board of Trustees was not consulted on their reactions to the internal investigation report issued by a group spearheaded by former FBI Director Louis Freeh. ESPN's Don Van Netta, reporting for Outside the Lines, noted the frustration of several anonymous Board members in his August 4th report, entitled "On Death's Door: Inside the negotiations that brought Penn State football to the brink of extinction."

As Freeh spoke, the Penn State board of trustees watched the telecast inside a conference room at the Radisson Hotel in Scranton, Pa., where they were beginning two days of regularly scheduled meetings. Several trustees interviewed for this story say they don't believe any of the trustees had the time and opportunity to read all 267 pages of the report during that hectic day. "Most of us skimmed it, if that," says one trustee. "I read about 50 or 60 pages, and that took about two hours."

Yet at 11:30 that morning, Karen Peetz, the chairwoman of the board, was huddled with members of her 11-member executive committee and other trustees to write a statement for the media to be delivered later that day. At 3:30, Peetz and Frazier told reporters that the trustees accepted full responsibility for the school's failures outlined in the Freeh report. Emmert would later speak of the trustees' "acceptance of the report." But no vote of the full board was taken. Trustees say the day was so chaotic that the board never discussed the report's contents.

"We didn't formally accept the report," a trustee says grimly, "but everyone thinks we did, and that's all that matters." The next day was chewed up with hearings on budget and other matters; the findings again weren't discussed by the full board.

Two days after the sanctions were announced, the Trustees held a closed door meeting, hearing from Erickson and others about why he signed the Consent Decree without any discussion with the Board of Trustees. Interestingly enough, the Freeh Report is critical of the "rubber stamp" relationship with the Board and former Penn State President Graham Spanier. No vote was taken on the validity of the Consent Decree or of Erickson's power at that meeting.

In the ensuing weeks, multiple groups have pledged to challenge the NCAA's sanctions through the appeals process and federal court. One of those groups is led by newly elected Trustee Captain Ryan J. McCombie, who has retained Paul Kelly of Jackson Lewis LLP. In a letter written to his colleagues on August 6th, McCombie implored his colleagues to join his appeal.

The Board of Trustees will have its opportunity to do so on Sunday's teleconference. However, any cooperation with McCombie's effort (or the efforts of a group of former players or the Paterno family) is unlikely. Van Netta reports this afternoon that the Board is expected to ratify the Consent Decree.

Board chairwoman Karen Peetz called the meeting "so that there can be no misunderstanding as to where we as the board stand."

Erickson and the NCAA signed a consent decree on July 23 that laid out a package of sanctions against the university and football program as a result of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. The sanctions include a $60 million fine, a four-year bowl ban, scholarship losses and the vacating of wins from 1998 through 2011.

The resolution the board will consider states "the process followed by the (NCAA) was unfortunate and the punitive sanctions are difficult," and refers to the consent decree as "binding."

The outcome of Sunday's meeting seems almost certain, sources told "Outside the Lines," because two straw polls about whether to appeal the sanctions were taken by a quorum of trustees during a conference call Tuesday.

That call may have constituted an illegal board meeting given the votes taken, the number of trustees present and the lack of public notice given about the call -- a requirement of the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act.

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