New York Daily News
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett unleashed a legal blitz against the NCAA Wednesday, announcing he will file a federal lawsuit that accuses the non-governmental agency of exploiting the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal “for the purpose of crippling Penn State football, thereby harming citizens of the Commonwealth who benefit from a successful football program at Penn State.”
Corbett announced the filing of the 43-page complaint — filed in U.S. District Court in the Middle District of Pennsylvania — at a news conference at Penn State. The legal action comes five months after the NCAA levied severe sanctions against the school — which has no involvement in the suit — in the wake of the Sandusky case. The 68-year-old Sandusky, a long-time assistant football coach under the late Joe Paterno, was convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse in June of 2012 in a trial that shocked the nation. Sandusky was sentenced in October to 30 to 60 years in prison.
Corbett accuses NCAA president Mark Emmert of handing down the sanctions — which included a $60 million fine, a four-year postseason and bowl ban and loss of scholarships — without having the proper authority to do so, citing the NCAA’s by-laws and constitution. When the sanctions were issued in July, PSU president Rodney Erickson signed a consent decree.
“The fact that the alleged actions of those involved in the tragic events at Penn State were criminal, and that no violations of NCAA rules had been identified, would not dissuade Dr. Emmert from seizing upon the international publicity that the Penn State matter had instantly attracted to make a show of unprecedented and aggressive discipline that he, with the input of a handful of university presidents and chancellors, would determine and impose,” reads the complaint. “Once and for all, the NCAA would shed the reputation of being soft on discipline, even if doing so meant ignoring the existing NCAA rules and processes that its member institutions justifiably expected and to which they were entitled.”
The complaint further underscores the financial impact the sanctions have made on the Happy Valley community and throughout the state, and says that Emmert and the NCAA threatened Penn State’s storied football program with the so-called “death penalty” — shutting down the program entirely — to get the university to agree to the crippling sanctions.
“In order to avert these difficult challenges, Dr. Emmert and the presidents and chancellors found a convenient path around the NCAA’s due process protections. They simply informed Penn State what the punishments would be, and threatened that if Penn State did not waive its right to due process and accept the sanctions offered, the NCAA would impose the ‘death penalty’ for four years,” reads the complaint.
The NCAA issued a statement saying it was “disappointed by the Governor’s action today.
“Not only does this forthcoming lawsuit appear to be without merit, it is an affront to all of the victims in this tragedy — lives that were destroyed by the criminal actions of Jerry Sandusky,” continued the NCAA statement. “While the innocence that was stolen can never be restored, Penn State has accepted the consequences for its role and the role of its employees and is moving forward. Today’s announcement by the Governor is a setback to the University’s efforts.”
Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a professor of law at Florida Coastal School of Law and a senior director of advocacy for the Women’s Sports Foundation, told the Daily News she was struck how the Corbett press conference “focused on the amount of money and business lost,” and that there was no mention of how the sanctions “hurt the type of football or educational experience that football players were allowed to receive.
“What got Penn State into this problem in the first place was the overemphasis on its reputation, and the commercial aspect of athletics,” Hogshead-Makar said. “It’s exactly what this lawsuit is further highlighting. This lawsuit is more evidence that the business side of athletics is out of control.”