Penn State faced the threat of a four-year ban on playing football before the NCAA imposed sanctions this week over the school's handling of the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal, a university spokesman said Wednesday.
David La Torre said the potential for the multiyear "death penalty" was floated during discussions between Penn State President Rodney Erickson and NCAA officials before Penn State was hit Monday with a $60 million fine, a four-year bowl game ban, reduced football scholarships and the forfeiture of 112 wins.
The school trustees met on the subject at a State College hotel Wednesday, and afterward issued a statement calling the NCAA punishment "unfortunate" but better than the alternative — the so-called "death penalty." Reporters were barred from the conference room where they met, and trustees avoided them after the meeting broke up.
The potential for a four-year ban, first reported by ESPN, showed how high the stakes were as college sports' governing body considered how to respond to an internal school investigation by former FBI Director Louis Freeh that found former coach Joe Paterno and three other top college officials helped conceal reports that Sandusky was abusing children.
NCAA president Mark Emmert said this week that if a total football ban had been imposed, other penalties would have accompanied it.
"If the death penalty were to be imposed, I'm quite sure that the executive committee and I ... would not have agreed to just the death penalty. It would have included other penalties as well," Emmert said as the sanctions were unveiled.
An NCAA spokeswoman declined further comment Wednesday on negotiations with Penn State.
Many alumni and some trustees were incensed over the unprecedented NCAA penalty — which will cost Penn State tens of millions of dollars and likely cripple its football team for years to come — and Penn State's quick acceptance of it.
A person with knowledge of the meeting said earlier Wednesday that trustees were to discuss whether Erickson had the authority to agree to the sanctions without first getting the board's approval. The person was not authorized to discuss the meeting and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Some trustees had expressed concern that Erickson may have violated a board rule that says the board must authorize the signing of "contracts, legal documents, and other obligations."
The board statement made no reference to the proprietary of what Erickson had done, saying trustees held a discussion but did not take any votes.
"The board finds the punitive sanctions difficult and the process with the NCAA unfortunate," the statement said. "But as we understand it, the alternatives were worse as confirmed by NCAA President Mark Emmert's recent statement that Penn State was likely facing a multi-year death sentence."
La Torre said Wednesday that Erickson had authority to act without the approval of the full board.