In a Tuesday meeting with the editorial board of USA Today, the chairman of Penn State's board of trustees, Keith Masser, and fellow trustee Keith Eckel expressed disapproval of the Freeh report and hope that the NCAA might revise its sanctions against the university.
Mr. Masser called the report's conclusions about the motives of former football coach Joe Paterno and three former administrators in regard to the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse "speculation."
Mr. Eckel said he was surprised that "Freeh came to conclusions as far as responsibility."
Reached by phone on Tuesday night, Mr. Eckel said that the board had no plans to challenge or re-examine the Freeh report.
"I don't know that USA Today properly put our comments in perspective," he said. "Here is exactly what I meant: And that is simply that all of the [Freeh] recommendations are being absolutely followed, but the conclusions as to personal responsibility were not issues that the board dealt with ... Conclusions as far as the individuals are concerned are certainly left to the courts."
Penn State spokesman David La Torre said the university had no comment.
On Friday, The Centre Daily Times in State College reported that football coach Bill O'Brien held a presentation for the trustees during a closed session in which he proposed addressing the NCAA to seek a reduction of the sanctions. On Tuesday, Mr. Eckel called this meeting an "educational session." He said any official movement to reduce the sanctions needed to be enacted by university president Rodney Erickson, per Big Ten rules. According to NCAA rules, universities' athletic departments are officially represented by the president. It was also Mr. Erickson who signed the binding consent decree that introduced the penalties. The decree states that it can be revised by mutual, written consent of both parties.
Mr. Eckel said that Penn State never approved the Freeh report's conclusions, that it approved only moving forward with its recommendations. According to the language of the consent decree, Penn State was willing to accept the Freeh report "for purposes of this resolution."
"I, personally, not speaking for the board, would be hopeful that a time may come when there is recognition by the NCAA of that progress that we might address certain concerns," Mr. Eckel said. "That's just my personal view. And I want to emphasize that it is president Erickson's decision."
Louis Freeh, the former FBI director, was hired by Penn State to do an independent investigation into what occurred over a period of more than 15 years in which Sandusky, a former assistant football coach at Penn State, sexually abused children. The review concluded that former Penn State president Graham Spanier, along with Paterno, former athletic director Tim Curley and former vice president of business and finance Gary Schultz enabled Sandusky's behavior to avoid bad publicity for the university.
In the last year, many alumni and some of the trustees have been critical of the Freeh report and the sanctions. One of the most vocal has been trustee Anthony Lubrano. He is also one of the plaintiffs, along with the Paterno family and several former Penn State players and coaches, in a lawsuit filed against the NCAA in May.
"I was surprised that the chairman publicly stated what I've been saying all along," Mr. Lubrano said when reached by phone Tuesday night. "I was glad to hear him say that. Maybe they're finally seeing the light. ... maybe they all should join us in our lawsuit against the NCAA."
Asked whether he thought the comments of Mr. Eckel and Mr. Masser might lead to changes with regards to the university and the Freeh report, Mr. Lubrano said no, but he wanted to give credit to Mr. Masser for listening to concerns "raised from the alumni community."
The Paterno family released a statement on Tuesday, saying that the comments of Mr. Masser and Mr. Eckel were critically important.
"With the credibility of the NCAA eroding on a daily basis, it is imperative that the NCAA revisit their actions," the statement read.
The last week has seen a rash of new developments concerning Penn State and the Sandusky scandal.
Last week it was announced that the preliminary hearing for the trial of Mr. Spanier, Mr. Curley and Mr. Schultz would begin on July 29. On Monday, Penn State chose to keep confidential a preliminary report from the U.S. Department of Education about its compliance with the Clery Act, concerning the Sandusky scandal. The Clery Act is a 1990 federal law that requires universities to document all crime on campus.
Mr. Eckel said the purpose of speaking out on Tuesday was to illuminate the changes Penn State has made since the Freeh report last year. Penn State has implemented 115 of the 119 Freeh report recommendations, and Mr. Eckel said it had also introduced recommendations suggested by the Penn State Faculty Senate.
Mark Dent: email@example.com, 412-439-3791, Twitter @mdent05