Coach Joe Paterno's future won't be settled before the start of Penn State's spring practice next week.

Instead, standing like a monolith four days before the Nittany Lions' head coach begins his 43d season at the helm are the bimonthly board of trustees meetings, to begin today, and end tomorrow, in Washington.

While the trustees don't have the final say on whether the 81-year-old icon gets an extension beyond his current contract, which expires after the coming season, the 32-member group no doubt has the ear of university president Graham Spanier.

Spanier, director of athletics Tim Curley, and Paterno met recently as part of ongoing discussions, according to the president. In an e-mail, though, Spanier said that there was "no news to report at this time."

Curley recently said there was no deadline.

Several times last season, Paterno said he would like to coach for at least two more years, maybe for as many as five. Spanier is obviously keeping his cards close, but he and Curley already have asked the coach to consider retirement at least once, over four years ago.

"It's a very difficult situation," said one trustee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "The man is a legend, so it's not to be taken lightly. But each year he continues to coach, it's going to become increasingly sticky."

Those are the stakes as Spanier and the trustees head to the nation's capital. While Spanier said he didn't anticipate the subject's being broached as it was during the January summit in State College, several trustees believed it would be on the table.

"I don't see how it can be avoided," another trustee said.

Spanier's president's report, scheduled for today, and tomorrow's session will be open to the public.

Paterno is expected to meet with reporters on Monday. With a new season approaching, the last questions he wants to field are those concerning his status. But the longer his future is unresolved, the more ominous it becomes for the team.

"We see it in the papers every day," center A.Q. Shipley said. "We can't do anything about it. He's our coach this year. Whatever is going to happen after that, nobody knows."

There are several scenarios that could play out:

Paterno is given a short-term extension and an in-house successor is named, probably defensive coordinator Tom Bradley.

Paterno is given a one-year extension but a successor is not named, suggesting that Spanier has a particular outside replacement in mind.

Paterno's contract is not renewed following the 2008 season, his coaching staff is let go, and a national search is conducted.

Paterno was present when the team ran on Monday afternoon. Quarterback Darryl Clark said the team hadn't been privy to any developments.

"I feel that if it's going to happen, Joe would have probably addressed it already," Clark said. "And he hasn't."

Many believe the tenuousness of the situation is affecting recruiting. Yesterday, the Lions lost out on Terrelle Pryor, the No. 1 overall recruit in the nation. Despite being recruited by Bradley for four years, the 6-foot-6, 220-pound senior chose Ohio State.

Ray Reitz, Pryor's coach, recently suggested that if Penn State had named Bradley the successor-in-waiting, the Jeannette (Pa.) High School quarterback would have gone to Happy Valley.

When asked about that at his nationally televised news conference yesterday, Pryor did not answer directly, focusing on his distaste for State College's environs instead.

"I love Tom Bradley," he said. "I just don't like the area. It's country-looking."

Now that Pryor is going elsewhere, securing a quarterback from next year's class of recruits is of the utmost importance. The Lions have already offered scholarships to Kevin Newsome of Chesapeake, Va.; Tate Forcier of San Diego; and Cardinal O'Hara High's Tom Savage.

Officially, Curley is supposed to make the final decision on Paterno. However, it is expected that Spanier will have the ultimate call.

The clock is ticking.

"I am very supportive of Graham Spanier and how he'll handle this issue," said Joe Conti, a former trustee. "I know he's going to make the right decision at the right time."