CHICAGO — Penn State football coach Bill O'Brien created a buzz at Big Ten Media Days here Friday when he said he thought the NCAA could soften the recent sanctions leveled against the Nittany Lions.
Speaking in a roundtable interview, O'Brien told reporters, If we're looking and acting like the program we are, they can come in and revisit (the sanctions). It set off a torrent of tweets and texts back to editors.
Indeed, when handing down the sanctions Monday, NCAA president Mark Emmert did use the word revisit.
However, speaking shortly after O'Brien, Penn State acting athletic director Dave Joyner offered a much different view of the sanctions, which came in the form of a consent decree.
I've read it a couple of times, Joyner said. Certainly the NCAA has the right to reopen the consent. I think the feeling is that's if we don't do things correctly. It's never been said they'll reopen it if we're doing a really good job. Not being an attorney, I can't say if they're willing to do that or not.
Joyner said he was not part of the discussion process with the NCAA that led to the sanctions, which include a four-year bowl ban, the loss of 40 scholarships over four years, a $60 million fine and the ability for players to transfer immediately. But he admitted to being kept in the loop and being concerned when he saw the outline for the decree a few days before it came out.
A former practicing orthopedic surgeon, Joyner used a medical analogy to sum up his feelings.
It's sort of like you know you've got something going on and you're waiting for the diagnosis and treatment, Joyner said. After you find out, maybe the diagnosis and treatment is very difficult for you to come to grips with. But the bad thing you know is much better than the bad thing you don't know.
Though the coach and athletic director have distinctly different views on the NCAA sanctions, that has been their only significant public disagreement. In fact, Joyner reinforced Friday his commitment to the first-year coach, who was hired to replace Joe Paterno in January.
He's the right person for the right time, Joyner said. He's really built for this thing. He's tough, articulate, no-nonsense, straight forward.
When the NCAA sanctions kicked in, O'Brien's original five-year contract with Penn State was automatically extended four more years.
I'm very happy that we did that, as I'm sure he is, Joyner said. That lets him do what he has to do in these next four years.
It allows him the extra time to refill or whatever he has to do over the next several years.
Earlier in the day, O'Brien said the Penn State football program's budget had not been decreased due to the sanctions. Since the decree states that the $60 million fine cannot impact PSU's other 30 varsity sports, many wonder where the university will come up with the cash.
We're looking at our capital maintenance budget, maybe delay painting some things, Joyner said, adding that painting the large buildings on campus is expensive. We'll look at those kinds of things. We'll probably do a lot of it from an internal loan. The university does that on a lot of projects, not just athletics.
The athletic department will also be considering changes to the STEP program that began at Beaver Stadium before the 2011 season. Essentially a seat-licensing program, it was under heavy fire from fans even before the fallout of the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal led to the NCAA sanctions.
But Joyner admitted any such changes could not be implemented until the 2013 season. As for the upcoming campaign, he predicts sellouts at Beaver Stadium as fans show their support for the team.
What we're seeing and hearing from people is extremely positive right now, he said. He claimed that he had only received a handful of negative e-mails after the sanctions were announced.
That does not seem to completely square with the intense public criticism that has come down on the administration this week. Many thought Penn State should have risked a full-blown NCAA investigation rather than signing off on the harsh penalties. Others were upset that the decision to accept the sanctions was not done in more of a public fashion. The entire Board of Trustees did not vote on whether the decree should be signed.
Some fans went so far as to call for the firings of school president Rodney Erickson (who signed the decree) and even Joyner.
Asked how long he intended to remain as acting athletic director, Joyner drew a laugh from reporters when he said, I expect to finish today, god willing.
Then he added: I'm here at the behest of Dr. Erickson. So as long as he wants me, I'm here to help the university.