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Divided Penn State board affirms commitment to NCAA sanctions

By David DeKok

HARRISBURG Pa. (Reuters) - Penn State University trustees voted on Wednesday to affirm their commitment to sanctions imposed by the NCAA following the Jerry Sandusky child sex scandal, turning back a challenge by board members who think the consent agreement is too harsh.

The board voted by a more than 2-to-1 ratio to endorse the university's continued compliance with a package of penalties imposed by the nation's collegiate athletic governing body in response to crimes by Sandusky, a former assistant football coach.

“We have set a high standard of compliance,” said Keith W. Eckel, a farmer from Clarks Summit who holds one of the six agriculture seats on the board. “It would be a major mistake to turn back now.”

Dissident trustees wanted to scrap sanctions such as a four-year ban on Penn State playing in football bowl games and tighter limits on football scholarships. The sanctions also require Penn State to "vacate" all wins from 1998-2011, meaning the NCAA would wipe them off the record books.

The dissidents are representative of thousands of alumni who think the NCAA treated Penn State unfairly. They are particularly upset at the board's firing of legendary head football coach Joe Paterno in 2011.

The endorsement was part of a broader resolution in which the board agreed to a position on settling litigation that seeks to mandate that the $60 million fine levied on Penn State for child abuse prevention go to Pennsylvania programs only.

Initially, the NCAA wanted to use the money in programs across the country. But two state officials sued, and the court added Penn State to the litigation as an “indispensable party” in April when the court rejected NCAA objections to the lawsuit.

That required the board to take a position on a possible settlement, while giving an opening to the dissident trustees to pressure the NCAA to roll back at least some of the sanctions.

The final vote on Tuesday was 19 in favor of the broad resolution in which Penn State affirmed its commitment to the sanctions. Eight "no" votes and one of two abstentions came from trustees elected by the university’s 600,000 alumni over the past three years.

Sandusky is serving 30 to 60 years in prison for having sex with underage boys. He was an assistant to the late Joe Paterno, who is still revered by many alumni.

(Reporting By Frank McGurty; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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