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Penn State trustees vote to stay course on Sandusky sanctions

| Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014, 11:27 a.m.

HARRISBURG — A divided Penn State board voted Wednesday to endorse a potential legal settlement that would keep its $60 million fine over the Jerry Sandusky scandal within Pennsylvania, signaling their support for a deal to end a dispute between state officials and the NCAA over the sanctions.

The trustees voted 19-8 for the resolution over a possible deal to end a Commonwealth Court lawsuit over the use of the money. Penn State was added as a defendant in that case earlier this year.

The resolution states that keeping the money in Pennsylvania “would be a win for the commonwealth, a win for the university and a win for the children of Pennsylvania.”

Much of the debate focused on a statement that the university “remains committed to full compliance with the consent decree,” which included the fine, a multi-year ban on postseason play and a temporary loss of football scholarships. Most of the board's nine alumni members voted to strip that from the resolution, but they were defeated and then also lost the vote on the overall resolution.

The lawsuit in question is one of three pending legal disputes concerning the consent decree reached in the wake of the child sex-abuse scandal involving the former assistant football coach.

A federal lawsuit by the NCAA against Gov. Tom Corbett and others that challenges the legality of a 2013 state law requiring the $60 million remain in Pennsylvania is on hold for a month while the parties negotiate. The Paterno family and others have also filed a lawsuit in county court that attacks the legality of the sanctions, among other things.

Board chairman Keith Masser told the trustees on Wednesday that there is no agreement on the terms of a possible settlement, but the parties have asked for the board's position.

Rick Dandrea, who chairs the board's legal committee, said the majority favored continuing compliance with the consent decree, which the university accepted two years ago, shortly after Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse. Some of the crimes for which he was convicted occurred on university property.

“I think it would be a huge mistake for the university to retreat from that commitment,” Dandrea said.

But Bob Jubelirer, a former state Senate leader and an alumni-elected board member, said the matter needed more time to be fully considered.

Fighting the consent decree at this time could produce a legal battle with no end in sight, as opposed to the sanctions that will run a few more years and could be reduced before then, said trustee Keith Eckel.

“It would be a major mistake to turn back now,” Eckel said.

The lawsuit at issue was brought by state Sen. Jake Corman, a Republican who represents the State College area, and state Treasurer Rob McCord, who lost the Democratic nomination for governor earlier this year.

Commonwealth Court added Penn State as a defendant and said it needed more information about the legality of the consent decree. A status conference in the case is scheduled for Thursday.

The NCAA last year loosened the consent agreement's temporary loss of football scholarships. The penalties also included the loss of 112 wins by the football team from Paterno's later years. The hall of fame coach died of complications from cancer in January 2012, less than three months after Sandusky was arrested. Sandusky is serving a 30- to 60-year state prison sentence.

Penn State has five years to pay the $60 million. It has so far set aside $24 million, the first two payments.

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