Paterno family sues NCAA over Penn State’s Sandusky fine

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Joe Paterno’s family is suing the National Collegiate Athletic Association over penalties levied against Pennsylvania State University and its football program for its role in the Jerry Sandusky sexual-abuse case.

In a complaint filed Thursday in state court in Bellefonte, Pa., the family of the deceased coach and five members of the school’s board of trustees said the Indianapolis-based NCAA improperly interfered and grossly mishandled a criminal matter outside the scope of its authority. The NCAA’s actions also interfered with contractual relations and defamed the Paternos, they said.

“This case is further proof that the NCAA has lost all sense of its mission,” Wick Sollers, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a prepared statement. “An illegally imposed penalty that is based on false assumptions and secret discussions is a disservice to the victims and everyone else who cares about the truth of the Sandusky scandal.”

Paterno, who set records for on-field success as the coach of Penn State’s Nittany Lions, died Jan. 22, 2012, at the age of 85. He was fired in November 2011 after 46 seasons at the university, following criticism that he failed to contact police when told of an abuse case involving Sandusky, a former assistant.

The Paternos’ suit is the third against the NCAA over the sanctions, which include a $60 million fine to be paid in five installments. Penn State’s football program was also stripped of 112 wins from 1998 through 2011 and barred from bowl games for four years, matching the longest postseason ban in the history of the NCAA, which oversees most college sports in the U.S.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican, sued the NCAA in January, arguing that the sanctions violated antitrust laws. Pennsylvania State Senator Jake Corman, also a Republican, sued seeking to direct funds from the penalties to state programs. Penn State, which agreed to the sanctions, isn’t a plaintiff in those complaints.

NCAA officials didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment on the latest lawsuit. David La Torre, a spokesman for Penn State, didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking comment on it.

Sandusky, 69, who spent 31 seasons as a defensive assistant under Paterno, was sentenced in October to at least 30 years in prison for sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period.

A July 2012 report commissioned by the university concluded that Paterno and three senior school officials, including Penn State President Graham Spanier, who was fired, hid critical facts surrounding Sandusky’s abuse in an attempt to avoid “bad publicity.”

In February, the Paterno family said the report was fundamentally flawed. The university’s board of trustees and the NCAA relied on the report, which was prepared by Louis Freeh, the former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, without appropriate review or analysis, the family said in a statement at the time.

Former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and other experts hired by the family said they determined in a review of evidence that Paterno didn’t attempt to hide any information or impede the probe into Sandusky.

Attorneys for the NCAA argued at a May 20 court hearing that the sanctions were necessary and the response extraordinary because of the horrifying nature of the crime. The NCAA attorneys asked a federal judge to dismiss Corbett’s suit, arguing the governor lacked standing to bring the case.


  • Good rebuttal Dave.
    This is a terrible story...as bad as they get...one thing that I have more than considered that Dave makes a good point about is that there is some belief among people in PA and at PSU that something even more insidious was going on than what we currently know about...a Prosecutor who was on to something in this investigation ended up mysteriously dead back in the mid 2000's (I have followed this story closely Dave, I have read the report you site as well, and there is some interesting stuff in there, my opinion at the time I read it was that there was an agenda to cast doubt on Freeh report, and there are instances where it certainly does that, but if you choose it as the source you think is most likely to be accurate, I can't fault you for that, because it is possible that the Freeh report had an agenda as well)...there has been some suggestion that the Freeh Report was commissioned to distract the public, and that there are other people being protected...that there may in fact be other people in high places who have similar predilictions to Sandusky who are connected somehow to the whole sordid story, Second Mile, other victims, etc. Some of the more sensational exposes out on the internet even name names. I don't know if any of that can be believed, I have really followed Ms. Ganim's stories as the most reliable source because of her dogged coverage, and because of the resistance and abuse she encountered in ferreting out what truths she did uncover...I hope a coverup of that magnitude is not possible, but I do know that the network of pedophiles is somehwat underground but very organized, and that it cuts across all levels of society, and it has done so historically for as long as there have been people that desire sex with children. There may be some worth to all of this if it leads to more truth... I still believe Joe should have done more, and when this thing blew up, he did not behave like a guy who was sorry for what had happened or his role in it...when it became obvious he was going to have to go, he squeezed the school for big money to walk away, tried to stay till the end of the season, secured the family lifetime access to the Lasch Building and facilities and all sorts of other perks...he negotiated like a champion to squeeze out everything he could...so the beloved Joe Pa that you describe doesn't really wash with me personally (just me) ... Nevertheless Dave, you make a cogent argument about there being more than meets the eye here...we will see.
  • Lawyers
    Can this forum be considered Discovery? Seems like both sides' counsels are trying to shape public opinion with this pretrial banter.
  • Re: University Sanctions
    Hi Rad, I think there are other parties including former football lettermen and there are actually a few PSU Board of Trustees that are also on this suit. That's why it's all of the sanctions, not just the wins. I suspect the Paterno name just carries the headlines and gets the clicks. Hope that clears it up a bit for you.
  • Some Correction
    Jim, I have no answer for why you feel that Joe Paterno actively inflicted his will on the entire state of Pennsylvania when in fact, you likely have no examples of this. He was widely loved and respected, but I'm not aware of any scenario where he exercised authority in the manner you describe. Also, I too care about the victims and the fact is that someone is not telling the truth about why Jerry was able to do what he did for so long. Maybe it's one of the three on trial now. We will know soon. Now in 1998, you know that the police ran a sting on Jerry...what more would you have wanted? If the police sting failed to result in anything and they closed the case, why would that suddently lead Joe to believe that Jerry the Monster was back when he received a second-hand account that McQuery has admitted he watered down to Joe? But he told Joe enough to keep the process moving; so, it's amazing people look over that and jump right to the conclusion that Joe knew intimately about '98 and this somehow makes it a cover-up. Why would he tell his superiors when the demi-God you describe Joe as could have just stopped it then and there? PA CYS and PA police who are much better able at identifying and dealing with pedophiles than a football coach couldn't prove anything (please read the Clemente Report if you care about the victims and what to make sure this doesn't happen in your own community). I think you want the easy answer of blaming Joe Paterno and you know what, you may end up being right. It must be shocking for you to hear a PSU alum admit, but you could be right. I, and others that think like I do, just like that to be proven in the courts rather than the Freeh Report (which I give you credit for acknowledging is not perfect) when they didn't even interview any of the 'Big 4' adminstrators. Basically, what I'm trying to get across is that Penn State alums and the Paterno family simply want everyone to go under oath with what happened so the RIGHT people get brough to justice. The Paterno family suit accuses the NCAA and Freeh of being in collusion, which is a strong allegation, to pin this on Joe hence why the suit is against the NCAA. What if something even more terrible is at work, and there was a cover-up but it wasn't Joe? Shouldn't that person be brought to justice? And yes, you are right, justice should be done. Everyone who reads this article should just consider that Joe's 60+ years of pretty consistently doing the right thing (note, I didn't say perfect) should at least give him the benefit of the doubt around a cover-up until more facts are brought to light. He is guilty of not "doing more" which he has already had to answer for to his Maker; not a whole lot more you can ask for there. Therefore, I think it's somewhat reasonable to understand that the Paterno family believes Joe did not actively conceal a pedophile and wants to fight the prevailing theory. Again, in the court with people under oath, your version of events may be proven correct. Let me finish with this: again, we (being PSU alums and likely the Paterno family) all wish that just one of Joe and Tim Curley and Graham Spanier and Gary Schultz did more. But, to say that finding the real truth of this matter is somehow not honoring the victims is a pretty weak argument. The victims deserve to know who actually let them down and this is a good step in that direction.
  • Wrong guess,Dave
    No Dave, I am not a Penn State Alumni...I don't know what following the case at a "high level" means, but I have read every piece that Ms. Ganim (Pulitzer Prize) wrote about it, so I followed it pretty closely, and she wrote a lot of articles before and after this one, which is the only one that PSU faithful seem to remember...I have no interest in this case other than seeing that the kids whose lives were ruined by the inaction of a bunch of high level administrators including Joe Paterno while Jerry Sandusky preyed upon them inside the Lasch Building, Joe Paterno's personal shrine, get the justice that is due them. You want to trot this 2001 article out that recounts that Paterno did the absolute minimum he had to do and left it to others to clean up the mess Sandusky was making, and you want to ignore the story about the 1998 allegation/investigation into Sandusky where Paterno testified to the grand jury he may have heard a rumor about Sandusky back then, but knew nothing of an ongoing investigation into him at that time...only to be contradicted by e-mails (this is in the Freeh report) exchanged in 1998 between Paterno and the various "high level' administrators you refer to as being the ones who are actually culpable, along with the lowly Child Welfare Case Workers in the state...the ones who are actually working with all these broken kids...yes, let's blame them, when the one person who could have stopped all this with a wave of his hand did somewhere between little and nothing so that he could protect the PSU money machine (as Mel Brooks so preciously said as the Governor in Blazing Saddles "We gotta protect our phoney baloney jobs, guys"). And by the way Dave, the Attorney Genereal and Chief of Police both said Mr. Paterno did not do enough, this story is actually the Deputy Prosecutor absolving Mr. Paterno because that office chose not to press charges against the most important person in the state of PA (wonder how that happened). The Paterno family is likely trying to clear Paterno's name for several reasons...one, he cashed a bunch of checks for them when he resigned setting them up for life, and two, he is deceased, and so the one person (Paterno) who could testify as to why he told a Grand Jury he did not know anything about Sandusky's actions in 1998, when there are a string of e-mail communications that show he clearly did know isn't here, and can't be called to the stand to answer for that. I don't blame the family for wanting to clear his name becauwse they carry it too, and because he apparently did a lot of good for the school and the kids who played for him...I also can't tell you that everyting in the Freeh report is accurate, but it was commissioned by the University and it clearly says that Paterno was culpable along with Shultz, Spanier, Curley, and that the current Administrators at PSU agreed to the conclusions of the report, and the sanctions imposed by the NCAA. No doubt people lied, Dave...people do that every day. But Paterno is not here to ask about it now, and based on what is in the Freeh report, he is lucky he is not here to have to answer. I agree with the other poster...the best thing that the Paterno family and the alumni who are out of joint about this can do is let it go, fi for no other reason than to have some respect for the victims. Mr. Paterno's legacy will likely eventually be that of a man who did much good, and fell far short in this one situation...that may be the best you can hope for, given the price Sandusky's many victims paid.
    • lack of institutional control
      If the family were suing the NCAA to overturn sanctions that were levied against Paterno then what you say would make sense, but that is not the case. The family is suing to overturn sanctions that were levied against the university. Paterno is not legally responsible for the failure to investigate any more than Mike McQueary. He passed the information on to his superiors and they are the ones who failed to act. The sanctions are warranted because even if Paterno acted appropriately his superiors did not. This case is a perfect example of lack of institutional control.
      • Disagree
        My guess is that you are following this case at a high-level and have missed much of the developments in the last year. What most Penn State alums (and the Paterno family) are really after is clarity and accountability for what really happened. There are many pending trials that we hope will provide this, and at the core is the fact that the NCAA and Penn State senior leadership give conflicting version of events. Therefore, someone is lying and we want to know who and why. Regarding the Paterno suit, you will likely be surprised to know that even the Attorney General of Pennsylvania said Joe Paterno acted appropriately and if everyone else had done their jobs, this whole thing would be resolved. http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2011/11/paterno_praised_for_acting_app.html So, I'm actually not sure why you can't understand why the Paterno family wants to fight back at those like yourself that insinuate Joe Paterno enabled a pedophile. Anticipating the next question, could he or should he have done more? He himself said so before he died and is the only one man enough to do so. BUT, back in 2001 should his actions been enough to be able to put Jerry Sandusky in prison? By reporting it to his superiors and cooperating fully with authorities, I think we can say yes. Those senior leaders and PA Child Welfare Services that actually failed the children will have their day in court so a jury of their peers can decide on their guilt or innocence.
      • no way
        The NCAA has the authority to punish an entire school in the event that a single college student voluntarily accepts a gift, even if no school employees were aware of the transaction. In the case of Sandusky multiple school administrators were told that a class A felony was committed in the locker room and they didn't even look into the situation. Paterno's family needs to let this go. They can dispute bits and pieces of the case, but no one has questioned the fact that multiple children were molested because the administrators at Penn State failed to properly investigate the matter.

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