When Gene Marsh got the call on the morning of July 17, he was holed up in a one-room cabin -- with no running water and no toilets -- in woodsy Chebeague Island off of Maine. "A shack fit for the Unabomber," says Marsh, a 60-year-old tart-tongued Tuscaloosa, Ala., lawyer. Only six days earlier, he had been hired by Penn State to help negotiate sanctions from the NCAA in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal. On the phone was Donald Remy, the NCAA's general counsel. The news was grim. Remy said Penn State was facing an unprecedented punishment: a multiple-season death penalty, no football for years.
"Are you overselling this?" Marsh asked.
"Absolutely not," Remy said.
As he sat in his cabin, "I just imagined an empty stadium," says Marsh, a former chairman of the NCAA's infractions committee who has since defended many schools and coaches before it, including former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel. "I thought about the wind blowing through the portals and all the economic and social and spiritual ramifications of that empty stadium. And this would last … years?"
Read more from Don Van Natta Jr. on the inside negotiations that brought Penn State football to the brink of extinction.