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Pennsylvania to sue NCAA over Sandusky-related penalty

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Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett said he will sue the National Collegiate Athletic Association, challenging a $60 million fine levied against Pennsylvania State University for its role in the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse scandal.

The NCAA forced Penn State President Rodney Erickson “to agree to the sanctions under the threat of a death penalty” to its football program, Corbett said Wednesday at a press conference near the university in State College, Pennsylvania.

The state will file the complaint in federal court in Harrisburg later in the day, Corbett said. The university isn’t a party to the suit, he said.

“The NCAA leadership can’t make up its own rules,” Corbett said. “A handful of top NCAA officials simply inserted themselves into an issue they had no authority to police.”

Penn State was sanctioned by the NCAA in July and fined $60 million for its failure to prevent the sexual abuse by Sandusky, who was convicted of molesting 10 boys over 15 years when he was a football coach. The 68-year-old Sandusky, an assistant coach for 31 years under Joe Paterno, was sentenced in October to a minimum of 30 years in prison.

In addition to the fine, the Indianapolis-based NCAA, the governing body for college sports, 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.

NCAA General Counsel Donald Remy called Corbett’s announcement a setback to the university’s efforts to move forward.

“Not only does this forthcoming lawsuit appear to be without merit, it is an affront to all of the victims in this tragedy,” Remy said in a written statement.

Penn State said in a statement that it’s “committed to full compliance with the consent decree.”

Corbett, 63, said in July that he was grateful that the NCAA didn’t impose a so-called death penalty shutting down the football program. He said he sought assurance from Penn State that no taxpayer dollars would be used to pay the fine.

“The NCAA had no authority to operate outside of their own bylaws,” Corbett said Wednesday. This is a criminal matter, not a violation of NCAA rules.’’

Penn State said in August that it would pay in five annual installments of $12 million out of football reserves, the deferring of capital and maintenance expenditures and an internal Athletic Department loan.

Corbett’s claims make for a difficult argument and one that the NCAA is likely prepared to argue against, said Michael McCann, director of Vermont Law School’s Sports Law Institute.

“The NCAA is going to say we have a contractual relationship with Penn State and Penn State accepted these sanctions,” McCann said. “Penn State missed an opportunity to challenge this when they signed the consent decree. They contractually relinquished their rights.”

The NCAA sanctions required the payment to be made over five years into a special fund for child-abuse prevention programs.

James Schultz, Pennsylvania’s general counsel, said the state has a strong case and will seek “an injunction of the entire litany of sanctions.”

“The NCAA didn’t have any business in this,” Schultz said at the press conference.

In the fiscal year ended in 2011, Penn State’s athletic department generated $116.1 million in operating revenue and posted a $14.8 million operating profit, according to school records. The football team had an operating profit of $43.8 million on $58.9 million in revenue.

The NCAA acted against the school less than two weeks after an investigation found that Paterno, who died of lung cancer in January 2012, and other school officials tried to cover up abuse allegations. Paterno wasn’t charged with any crime.

The $6.5 million internal investigation commissioned by the university and led by Louis Freeh, a former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, found that school officials ignored red flags involving Sandusky for more than a decade.

Freeh’s report faulted the “culture of reverence” surrounding Penn State’s football program for leading to the Sandusky scandal.

Former Penn State President Graham Spanier and two other Penn State officials are facing criminal charges tied to a 2001 abuse allegation against Sandusky. Their cases are pending in state court in Harrisburg. A January trial date has been delayed indefinitely.

Paterno’s family hasn’t reviewed the suit and declined to comment on any specifics, Mara Vandlik, a spokeswoman for the family with McGinn & Co., said in a statement.

“The fact that Governor Corbett now realizes, as do many others, that there was an inexcusable rush to judgment is encouraging,” the family said in the statement.

Corbett, a Republican, said at the news conference that the state in the suit will ask a judge to declare the consent agreement illegal.

The NCAA sanctions were “overreaching and unlawful,” he said.

State Sen. Jake Corman, also a Republican, said after the press conference that he plans to introduce legislation to address how the $60 million fine is spent. In a Dec. 28 letter to legislators, Corman said he wants to direct funds from penalties placed on Commonwealth-supported schools to causes within the state.

“Penn State University was put in a terrible situation,” Corman said. “They can’t bring this lawsuit. That’s why we’re here. It could be argued as to whether they should have signed the consent decree or not, but we just have to go forward.”

Corbett said he conferred with outgoing state Attorney General Linda Kelly before deciding to bring the suit. He hasn’t yet spoken to incoming Attorney General Kathleen Kane.

Kane, a Democrat and the first woman elected to the state’s top law-enforcement office, called for an investigation of the handling of the Sandusky probe during her campaign.

Prosecutors began looking into Sandusky in early 2009 under then-Attorney General Corbett, who was elected governor in 2010. Sandusky wasn’t charged until November 2011, almost three years after the probe began.

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  • Misguided
    I am all for banning people from NCAA sports and taking away wins and titles, but prospective punishment only hurts players coaches and fans that had nothing to do with it.
  • Really?
    I will be kind and call Dupree's comments "naive". The NCAA has indeed been handing out penalties for "lack of institutional control" for years, and if there ever was an example of that, this is it. Spanier, Shultz, Curley, Paterno, all knew what accusations were made (many times over), had eye witness testimony from an Assistant Coach and information from various law enforcement agencies, and they all consciously and collectively chose to ignore it to protect the institution at the expense of these poor children. Anyone who says otherwise is just kidding themselves, and making excuses for adults who turned a blind eye. Sandusky was not just a pedophile who happened to work for the university...he was not a janitor. He was a respected and revered coach who still represented the university (although they had forced him out as a coach because of his name continually being linked in investigations) up until the time charges were filed... he spoke to recruits, and had access to all the Penn State facilities, inculding the locker rooms and showers where he molested his victims...even after repeated reports of this and numerous opportunities to limit Mr. Sandusky's access, none of the decision makers did a thing and Sandusky apparently continued to prey on innocent children because of their inaction. Educators, which is what all these people are really supposed to be, even if football is what subject you are teaching, are morally and legally obligated to report this information, and ethically obligated to protect innocent children. In my opinion, Penn State got off easier than they should have, the death penalty could easily have been imposed and the right minded trutees who are trying to guide Penn State out of this morass obviously understand that even though the Governor apparently does not. Is it possible that Gov. Corbett, who was Attorney General when the probe into Sandusky began, is feeling the heat from newly elected AG Kane, who is not a Republican? After all, she has promised an investigation into the Sandusky probe, and since she won the election, that must have been something that resonated with Pensylvania voters...after all, it took 3 years to bring charges, and no charges were filed while Corbett was the acting AG...only when he became Governor did his successor finally bring charges and stop this madness...that may be a coincidence...but it may be that the investigation got stonewalled somehow while Corbett was the AG, even if he had no personal involvement. Maybe that is why this suit was filed...maybe it is not. One would hope there is no culpability there, and certainly none has been alleged as yet, but it does make one wonder. Fact 1. Mr. Sandusky was convicted of the charges brought. Fact 2. Paterno, Spanier, Curley, Shultz were complicit in allowing these events to take place on university property, which make them more than just "criminal charges". Sorry...the argument that the NCAA overstepped here is weak and wrong. The child victims are the ones that matter here...the Governor filing this suit shows an insensitivity to those victims, in my opinion.
  • I agree, he NCAA is not a judge
    The NCCA is making up rules as they go along, and using selective enforcement. No one currently at Penn State participated in this case. Remember, even the police and investigators didn't act very quickly. And remember, all the events happened years and years ago...with a lack of any real evidence. Do we end Florida university programs if an athlete robs a convenience store? De we end IU basketball wins because Bob Knight was accused of spouse abuse or beating a player? Lets not makeup rules as we go. Lets try some consistency. Go Penn State -- good to see someone who will defend the university. Dupree
  • Seriously
    Apparently the people of the great state of Pennsylvania don't understand "lack of institutional control." The NCAA has been handing out penalties over this for years. Thank heavens it's their tax dollars they are wasting with this and not mine.

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