Sanctions against Penn State were necessary, NCAA tells judge

May 20, 2013

 The National Collegiate Athletic Association’s sanctions against Pennsylvania State University for its role in the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse scandal were necessary to protect the integrity of intercollegiate sports, a lawyer for the Indianapolis-based association argued in court Monday.

The sanctions, while extraordinary, were necessary to preserve the character of college football, James Scott Ballenger, an attorney for the NCAA with the law firm Latham & Watkins, said in a hearing in Harrisburg, Penn.

“The NCAA responded in extraordinary fashion to an extraordinary event,” Ballenger said. He argued there’s no precedent for NCAA involvement on this scale in a criminal action because there hasn’t been a case this “horrifying.”

The NCAA, the governing body for college sports, is asking U.S. District Judge Yvette Kane to dismiss a suit filed by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett over the sanctions, which included a $60 million fine. The NCAA in July stripped Penn State of 112 football wins from 1998 through 2011 and barred the Nittany Lions from bowl games for four years, matching the longest postseason ban in NCAA history.

The sanctions were agreed to by Penn State. They were imposed for the school’s failure to prevent sexual abuse by Sandusky when he was an assistant football coach. He was sentenced in October to at least 30 years in prison for molesting 10 boys over 15 years.

Corbett sued the NCAA in January arguing that the sanctions violate antitrust laws by restraining competition in the markets for college sports and enrollment. Corbett also claimed the NCAA had no jurisdiction over the issue, which was being pursued as a criminal matter in the courts.

Melissa Maxman, an attorney for the state with the law firm Cozen O’Connor, continued that argument today saying the ruling was a “complete departure from their previous approach toward criminal cases.”

“The NCAA had no reason to get involved in this except as a pretext to burnish its own reputation of being soft on enforcement,” Maxman said.

Ballenger countered that the complaint should be dismissed because it fails to allege any plausible anticompetitive effects and the governor lacks standing to bring such a case since he hasn’t alleged an antitrust injury.

The alleged impact of the sanctions on state revenue from ticket sales, on jobs in the local economy and on the value of a Penn State education are indirect harms that are insufficient to serve as the basis for an antitrust claim, Ballenger said.

James Schultz, Pennsylvania’s general counsel, told Kane the university’s football program generates about $90 million in business in the local community and about $5 million in tax revenue while creating about 2,200 jobs.

“Penn State football is an economic powerhouse for the commonwealth, and when that core no longer exists, it has impacts across the grid,” Schultz said.

Kane said she will issue a written opinion in a few weeks.

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