Penn State's football program faced a historic death penalty of four years if the school did not accept the massive NCAA sanctions that were announced Monday, university president Rodney Erickson revealed Wednesday.
NCAA president Mark Emmert confirmed the remarks Erickson made on ESPN's Outside the Lines, saying a core group of school presidents had wanted football banned for four years — unprecedented in college sports — with other sanctions on top.
Erickson was told by Emmert on July 17 that much of the NCAA's leadership wanted to deliver the death penalty in the wake of a report that claimed school leaders covered up the child sexual abuse of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, according to an ESPN.com report.
"Well, that's a pretty tough number to swallow," Erickson said he remembers thinking of the four years. "It's unprecedented. It's a blow to the gut, there's no doubt about that. … I couldn't agree to that at all."
Talks between Erickson and Emmert then intensified for several days.
"There were figures that were thrown around that were quite large," Erickson said.
Newly hired coach Bill O'Brien said Wednesday that he told Erickson: "I want to play football, and I want to play football on television."
Then, rather than face a formal investigation, the possibility of that multiyear ban and other sanctions both "punitive and corrective" in nature, Erickson opted for the penalties that included a $60 million fine and a four-year bowl ban. The NCAA also erased 14 years of coach Joe Paterno's victories, stripping him of his standing as the winningest coach in the history of Division I-A college football.
Several members of the school's board of trustees were reportedly angry the board was not given a chance to vote on the agreement, which they say is bad for Penn State, and they confronted Erickson on Wednesday night.
University spokesman David La Torre said before that meeting that Erickson had the authority to act without the approval of the full board, CBSSports.com reported.
Some board members had expressed concern Erickson might have violated a board rule requiring that it authorize the signing of "contracts, legal documents, and other obligations." But in a statement after the board met Wednesday evening, no reference was made to that issue, and it said no votes were held.
"The board finds the punitive sanctions difficult and the process with the NCAA unfortunate," it 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 multiyear death sentence."
The penalties came in response to the report by former FBI director Louis Freeh that concluded Paterno, former university president Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz concealed Sandusky's child sexual abuse for more than 10 years.
The NCAA penalties triggered a clause in O'Brien's contract that extends his deal the length of any sanctions handed down. Now O'Brien's deal runs through 2020.
Meanwhile, more than 30 football players, including quarterback Matt McGloin, announced they would remain.
But some players will weigh whether to transfer, with other schools wooing them. UCF's George O'Leary is among the coaches that have contacted the compliance department to receive clearance to speak to players.