Oregon State president Ed Ray, president of the NCAA's executive committee, has told at least two publications that the committee never threatened Penn State with a four-year death penalty.
Ray's comments to The Oregonian and to ESPN contradict what NCAA president Mark Emmert and Penn State president Rodney Erickson have said since Emmert announced the crippling sanctions against the university July 23 in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal.
"The overwhelming vote - we took a vote - in both the executive committee and the Division I board was not to include a suspension of play or death penalty, and then we quickly moved to the menu of actions (that were imposed)," Ray told The Oregonian. "And we voted unanimously to support that package.
"At no time did we ever have a discussion about, 'If they (Penn State officials) don't do this, we're going to do that.' That is a conversation that never occurred."
In the last few days, several Penn State fans on Twitter have posted the link to The Oregonian's Q-and-A with Ray, which was published the day after Emmert's press conference.
Ray, who stood alongside Emmert at the NCAA press conference July 23 in Indianapolis, told ESPN later that day that an "overwhelming" majority of the executive committee, which includes presidents and chancellors from Divisions I, II and III, and the Division I executive board were against imposing a death penalty on Penn State football.
"The only potential penalty that we had some extended discussion around was suspension of play," Ray told ESPN, "whether that ought to be part of a basket of punitive and corrective measures.
"There were people who felt that was appropriate, but the overwhelming position of members of both the executive committee and the Division I board was to not include suspension of play I can tell you categorically, there was never a threat made to anyone about suspension of play if the consent decree was not agreed to."
Ray's remarks also contradict what ESPN The Magazine reported in its Aug. 20 issue. According to a story written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Don Van Natta Jr., Emmert called Erickson July 17 and "told him the majority of the NCAA's Division I board of directors - - 18 university presidents - had coalesced around a decision: Shut down Penn State's football program for four years."
Gene Marsh, a former chairman of the NCAA's infractions committee who defended former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, had been hired by Penn State to help negotiate sanctions in the wake of the scandal. According to Van Natta, Marsh received a call July 17 from Donald Remy, the NCAA's general counsel. Remy told Marsh that Penn State was facing a death penalty for multiple seasons.Erickson, Marsh and others spent the next several days making their case to avoid the death penalty.
According to the ESPN The Magazine story, Emmert and his colleagues decided to drop the death penalty July 20 and composed a consent decree outlining the sanctions that Erickson signed as the better of the two options.
Even though Ray said the death penalty was not on the table, Erickson has made it clear that the threat of it was the only reason he signed the decree.
"I couldn't agree to that (the death penalty) at all," he has said.