Members of the Penn State Board of Trustees said they do not support the Freeh Report conclusions that coach Joe Paterno and three other university officials purposely covered up information concerning sexual abuse claims against Jerry Sandusky.
Meanwhile, they said they likely will ask the NCAA to lessen its harsh sanctions against the university and football program.
These points were made a year after the Freeh Report was the basis for that punishment.
Keith Masser, who chairs the board of trustees, said the conclusions made by former FBI director Louis Freeh are nothing more than “speculation” concerning the motives of Paterno, athletic director Tim Curley, president Graham Spanier and vice president Gary Schultz.
The university and new president Rodney Erickson, however, hired Freeh and signed off on his report, eliminating the possibility for appeal.
Now, board members say the university likely will ask the NCAA to reduce some of the sanctions, particularly those taking away 20 scholarships a year over the upcoming four seasons.
BOT members pointed out in the editorial session with USA Today that the consent decree signed last year does allow for modifications of the agreement.
The NCAA slammed the university with a $60 million fine, banned the football program from bowl games for four years, vacated 112 football victories and took away scholarships.
“Those scholarships fell off the face of the earth,” Masser told USA Today. “They didn’t get redistributed. To me, there are students with athletic ability who could have gotten a college education, who are not. Why is the NCAA punishing potential students?”
Meanwhile, Penn State has already implemented 115 of the Freeh Report’s 119 recommendations for improving governance, compliance and security.
Trustee Keith Eckel stressed that the BOT and university leaders are accepting of the Freeh recommendations and will continue to work fully with the NCAA.
When asked about his feeling about Paterno, board chair Masser spoke carefully, hesitant to offer any strong personal opinion.
“He was a great coach, I admired him. .¤.¤. His name is on our library and we admire his prioritization of academics .¤.¤. We believe that there will be a time to consider further recognition of Joe Paterno.”
The Paterno family, through spokesman Dan McGinn, offered this response, in part, to the USA Today postings:
“The comments today by members of the Penn State Board of Trustees that they reject the key findings of the Freeh report is a critically important development. Over the past year, the fundamental failures of the report have been well documented.
“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.”
But Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, a pro-Paterno group of Penn State alumni, criticized the comments from the board of trustees for the timing, as much as anything.
“The trustees’ year-long 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?”