Trustees Hear from Gene Marsh

September 16, 2012 at 5:45 pm 8 comments


Birmingham, Ala. lawyer Gene Marsh.

On Friday morning, before their regular bimonthly meeting, Penn State trustees had a seminar session that was lightly attended by the public and, as far as I could tell, not attended at all by the news media. The reason I think none of the media were there is that I had the media table all to myself.

I don’t think the topics for the seminar were published in advance, which is an area of transparency that I hope eventually gets addressed. (Certainly the fact that the session was open to the public is a step in the right direction.) It turns out that it was essentially a training session for the trustees: Half of it focused on mandatory-reporting laws regarding child abuse, and the other half—led by Gene Marsh—on NCAA regulations.

I’ll say more about the NCAA part momentarily, because I was there for that segment. I must confess to ducking out early in the child-abuse session, because I needed to drive home and get a power cable for my laptop and a bite to eat before the afternoon session. I regret missing the child-abuse part, because there’s a lot that I—and all of us, really—need to learn about child sexual abuse. For example, did you know that the legal age of consent in Pennsylvania is 13? A 13-year-old can legally give consent to have sexual contact— as long as it’s with a 13-, 14-, 15-, or 16-year-old. If I understand correctly, if the one person is under 16 and the other person is four or more years older, then that older person is guilty of statutory sexual assault, among other crimes.

Anyway, the training that the trustees went through, led by Penn State associate VP for human resources Susan Basso, is the same training that all Penn State employees eventually will be required to undergo. And it’s not just the legal stuff; the speakers also talked about the warning signs and other issues. So I hope to become conversant with all of this soon.

I figured that the Gene Marsh segment would focus on the NCAA sanctions, but it didn’t (except during the Q&A—more on this later). Instead he gave the trustees a rundown on the NCAA rules, especially those governing “boosters,” which is pretty much anyone who has an interest in a school. You and I are boosters in the NCAA’s eyes, and so are the trustees. And there are many, many rules governing how much contact we can have with student-athletes or recruits, whether we can buy them lunch, whether we can lend them money, and so on.

Marsh, a retired law professor at the University of Alabama, served on the NCAA Division 1 infractions committee from 1999–2008 and chaired that committee for a time. Penn State hired him to help deal with the sanctions process in July. A few highlights of his presentation:

—He’s no fan of the NCAA rulebook, which he says you would enjoy reading about as much as you’d enjoy reading a phone book. He said it reflects “a world gone mad” and “a complete lack of trust—institution to institution, coach to coach.”

—He went through some well-known and less-well-known infractions cases, including a sobering one: a player-eligibility scandal at St. Bonaventure in 2003 in which the chair of the board of trustees committed suicide.

Trustees Lubert, Lubrano, and McCombie listen during Gene Marsh’s session on NCAA rules.

—Trustee Anthony Lubrano ’82 asked about the University of North Carolina academic-fraud case, in which the NCAA last month said it found no evidence of rules violations. Marsh’s response: “First, have you considered any of the news media reports about Penn State to be unfair?” After the trustees chuckled at that, he added, “Use that same concept when you read about a matter at another school.” He recommended a Sept. 7 article by the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s Brad Wolverton that refutes some of the allegations against UNC. The link is here, though I think you might need a Chronicle subscription to read it.

—Marsh said some tougher rules are coming—look for an announcement in October—and that “postseason bans will become far more common than they are now.”

—Trustee Alvin Clemens ’51 asked whether Penn State has ever had NCAA sanctions. Though the university had never had a major violation before the current crisis, it’s had its share of secondary violations. “Secondaries” are more minor infractions, like a coach talking about a recruit before he or she has signed a letter of intent, or a coach having inadvertent contact with a recruit outside of the official contact periods. Schools typically self-report these, Marsh said, and some schools report dozens of them every year. “The NCAA views with great suspicion any school that doesn’t regularly turn in secondaries,” Marsh said.

—Marsh says that the ultra-high standard to which Penn State is now being held will soon become the norm for all schools. “The remedial steps [Penn State must take] will be a blueprint for the NCAA,” he said. “I don’t know if that makes you feel better, or worse.”

—Related to this, trustee Joel Myers ’61, ’63g, ’71g asked how many other schools are operating under an Athletic Integrity Agreement of the sort that Penn State signed as part of the sanctions. None, Marsh said. “Seems like we’re operating up here,” Myers said, gesturing with his hand, “and the others are down here.” Marsh’s answer: “I think the others are going to get there very quickly. Some are actively implementing [similar agreements], because it’s a train that’s coming.”

—When the questions turned to Penn State’s acceptance of the NCAA sanctions, Marsh got a little impatient. “I’ve talked to you folks four times about this,” he said. “Anyone who wants to use the word ‘negotiation’ [in regard to the university’s conversations with the NCAA] doesn’t have a clue.”

Incidentally, Marsh spoke about the NCAA sanctions at the trustees’ special Sunday-evening meeting on Aug. 12. He talked in some detail at the beginning of that meeting about Penn State’s interactions with the NCAA in July. You can listen to the audio of that meeting here.

Tina Hay, editor

Entry filed under: Board of Trustees. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. randsco  |  September 16, 2012 at 6:25 pm

    Tina – Very enlightening. Thanks for attending, writing up the detailed synopsis and linking other references.

    AGREED that public attendance is a step in the right direction, as would be posting session details. Penn State governance is under a lot of scrutiny and (slowly) improving. I doubt it will be fast enough to satisfy most alumni, which is why – hopefully – the State will mandate reformation.

  • 2. smokybandit  |  September 16, 2012 at 6:48 pm

    “Marsh’s response: “First, have you considered any of the news media reports about Penn State to be unfair?” After the trustees chuckled at that, he added, “Use that same concept when you read about a matter at another school.” ”

    So is he saying the UNC case is as bogus as the Penn State one?

  • 3. Robert  |  September 16, 2012 at 7:40 pm

    Marsh, as you breathe your last breath on earth, I hope you reflect upon your hypocracy and the injustice you have helped perpetrate upon an innocent footballteam and one of the greatest Universities on the planet. You are a disgrace and beyond redemption.

  • 4. Gary Levitt '64  |  September 16, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    The University hired Marsh six days before the “negotiation” took place. And he was on vacation at his cabin in the woods when he weighed in be phone. Once again, our Administration was too late with too little. What a shame!

  • 5. Carole Vail  |  September 16, 2012 at 9:55 pm

    Robert, I totally agree with you. Gene Marsh(mallow) used one word when “negotiating” with the NCAA and that was “Yes.” He continues to have a very cavalier attitude about the sanctions. When asked at an earlier BOT meeting what justification the NCAA had for vacating wins back to 1998, he said that what happened at Penn State was a “whole different critter,” a phrase he often uses. In other words, he had no explanation but actually gave the impression that he agreed with the NCAA. He was no advocate for Penn State with the NCAA; you or I could have gotten a better deal. I truly believe that Marsh took whatever the NCAA dictated without any kind of protest. His behavior was/is unethical. He sure is the the right guy to represent the disgraceful BOT. They are all cut from the same cloth. I am also appalled that “the trustees chuckled” at Marsh’s explanation of why the NCAA was not going to punish NC. Where is the humor in what they have done to the university. He and the BOT are beneath contempt.

  • 6. Rob  |  September 16, 2012 at 10:01 pm

    I probably wouldn’t want to talk about the “negotiations” for a fifth time either if I got bluffed out of +/- $100 million like Gene Marsh did.

    Seriously, why is the board wasting time and money listening to this clown? PSU already has a model athletic program (not just football).

  • 7. Richard  |  September 17, 2012 at 11:15 am

    The talk of Mr. Marsh, like many facets of this mess, bring up memories of the Catch 22 book. How fitting the book was remembered last week on campus.

    Good grief…

  • 8. Phil Dirt  |  September 19, 2012 at 12:18 am

    I thought the negotiations consisted of “take this or the death penalty”. When one side is holding all of the cards, there is no negotiating. It is their game, and if you want to play in it, you play it their way (as is should be).

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