Corbett set to sue NCAA over Penn State Sandusky sanctions

Gov. Corbett plans to sue over what a the state says are "illegal sanctions" that followed the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal.
Gov. Corbett plans to sue over what a the state says are "illegal sanctions" that followed the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal.
Posted: January 03, 2013

Gov. Corbett is expected to file a federal lawsuit Wednesday against the NCAA over what he contends are illegal sanctions that the organization imposed on Pennsylvania State University following the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal, his office announced New Year's Day.

Details were scarce Tuesday night. The brief release said more information would follow during a news conference Wednesday morning at the Nittany Lion Inn in State College, at the edge of the university's main campus.

A spokesman for Corbett could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association imposed strict sanctions on Penn State in July after an investigation by former FBI Director Louis Freeh. He accused university administrators of covering up abuse allegations to protect Sandusky, who had been an acclaimed assistant to Penn State head coach Joe Paterno and later enjoyed unfettered access to campus facilities as an emeritus member of the coaching staff.

The sanctions include a $60 million fine, a reduction in player scholarships, and a four-year ban on post-season play by the football team.

Sandusky is serving a minimum of 30 years in prison for molesting 10 boys, whom he met through his charity, the Second Mile. Some of the assaults occurred on the Penn State campus at the football training facility. A jury convicted him in June of 45 of 48 counts of child sex abuse.

Contesting the sanctions provides a unique opportunity to examine the role and scope of the NCAA, experts said Tuesday.

"It could be a seminal case in testing the limits of the power of the NCAA beyond what power Corbett or the state of Pennsylvania has," said Andrew Brandt, director of the Jeffrey S. Moorad Center for the Study of Sports Law at Villanova University Law School. "My initial view of this case is this could set a stage for a test of the ultimate power of the NCAA. . . . I think it could serve as a real precedent-setting case."

With no access to details of the lawsuit, Brandt was wary of speculating. His expertise, as a sports business analyst for ESPN, is in professional sports, which have a different model based on commissioners and collective bargaining.

Still, Brandt said, the challenge to the NCAA's authority is intriguing, particularly because the NCAA and Penn State had agreed on the sanctions. A Penn State spokesman said Tuesday only that the university was not involved in the lawsuit.

"Now we have a third-party lawsuit by someone who is not a player in terms of what happens," Brandt said. The NCAA has "largely not been challenged, and here we have a challenge that, if successful, will be looked at as a road map for perhaps other states, or other third parties."

Simultaneous to Corbett's action, state lawmakers are challenging how the NCAA's $60 million fine will be spent, asking that the money remain in Pennsylvania.

State Sen. Jake Corman (R., Centre), whose district includes Penn State's main campus, says he plans to introduce legislation to force the NCAA to limit that endowment to state programs. He said spending the money nationally would dilute its impact. Eight senators have signed on to co-sponsor the bill, said Scott Sikorski, Corman's spokesman.

To ensure that the NCAA recognizes that legislation, Sikorski said, Corman plans to file an injunction by the end of the week to keep the organization from using the $12 million that Penn State has already paid into an escrow account.

Joel Maxcy, a sports economist at Temple University, said the lawsuit could complement Corman's injunction and legislation, which Corbett has publicly backed. The governor's litigation might do so by challenging the NCAA under antitrust laws, Maxcy speculated, with the state claiming that the sanctions are monopolistic and harmful beyond their merit.

But Maxcy was also quick to note that without details on what the governor has planned, any sort of analysis is difficult. In fact, he said, the Sandusky scandal is so unusual that there is no real context or precedent to analyze.

"Because it involves this really quite distressful moral situation, it's really hard to say," said Maxcy, an associate professor at Temple's school of hospitality and tourism management. "Did they overstep their bounds here? I don't know. You have a really disgraceful moral situation, and [the NCAA] wanted to make a strong stance. Is it outside of their purview? Maybe."


Contact Jonathan Lai at 856-779-3220, jlai@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @elaijuh.

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