Barron: PSU should be 'rewarded' with lessened sanctions from NCAA
New Penn State president Eric Barron said he believes the university has made “enormous progress” in implementing Freeh Report recommendations and should be “rewarded” via further softening of NCAA sanctions affecting the school's football program.
During an interview with Tribune-Review reporters and editors Thursday, Barron said he is hopeful former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell will recommend additional relief from NCAA penalties levied in July 2012 in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. An annual report from Mitchell is due in August.
“I would never want to speak for (Mitchell),” said Barron, who took over as president this month, “but I will tell you my personal philosophy: Recognize and reward those people that do good things and work hard and take things seriously.”
The NCAA appointed Mitchell as an independent athletics integrity monitor for Penn State as it worked to implement 119 recommendations of the $8.1 million Freeh Report investigation into Penn State's response to allegations Sandusky, the Nittany Lions' former defensive coordinator, was sexually abusing boys — some on university property.
“The institution has taken (the recommendations) extraordinarily seriously,” Barron said. “They've made enormous progress, and my personal view is they should be rewarded for taking those steps and doing it much more quickly — and much better — than I think anybody thought that they could. So I'm hopeful that the senator will look at it and say, ‘This is impressive. These folks are not messing around. They're hitting it head on.' And he will feel like I do that people who do good things should be rewarded for them.”
Last fall, the NCAA followed Mitchell's recommendation to gradually restore Penn State's allotment of football scholarships to the presanctions level. The incoming 2015 recruiting class will have the full 25 available scholarships to offer that every Football Bowl Subdivision school has. By 2016, the Nittany Lions will be permitted to carry the full 85 scholarship players.
Remaining sanctions that could be lessened are lifting the final two seasons of a postseason ban, forgiving part of a $60 million fine that has yet to be paid and restoring 111 vacated wins from 1998-2011.
Penn State agreed to the penalties as part of a consent decree signed with the NCAA almost two years ago. The NCAA acted on the findings of former FBI director Louis Freeh's university-sanctioned investigation.
Freeh's report was critical of late legendary coach Joe Paterno, and the university community since has grappled with its recognition of Paterno's legacy.
Barron referred to his experience in dealing with another fired coaching legend — Florida State's Bobby Bowden — in explaining his strategy for reconciling PSU factions split on Paterno.
“This is a period of healing, and it takes time,” Barron said. “But you can count on the fact that it's important to me, and I'm going to do my best to help.”
Barron said he came away impressed after a lunch with current football coach James Franklin. Barron said the two did not discuss pending rape charges against four of Franklin's former players at Vanderbilt.
The Nashville district attorney's office has said Franklin cooperated with its investigation and there is no indication Franklin was involved in any wrongdoing.
“My preference is to look at what the (district attorney) in Tennessee said,” Barron said. “.I don't see a reason to be uncomfortable.”
Barron said he was satisfied with Penn State's vetting of Franklin when Franklin was hired in January.
Barron also said he “would have to be convinced not to follow through” on the wishes of his predecessor, Rodney Erickson, when it came to personnel decisions, such as hiring a replacement for athletic director Dave Joyner.
Although the “acting” tag was removed from Joyner's title in January 2013, Erickson said “a national search” would be conducted for the position after a new president was named.