Judge rips NCAA, questions Penn State's $60 million penalty

Posted: April 11, 2014

A judge on Wednesday ripped the NCAA for forcing Pennsylvania State University to pay $60 million in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal and said she intended to review whether the penalty was legal.

In an opinion upholding a state law that seeks to ensure that the funds go to programs in Pennsylvania, Commonwealth Court Judge Anne E. Covey wrote that there were "many discrepancies" between the NCAA's constitution and its July 2012 agreement with Penn State on the sanctions. She also argued that the penalties unfairly affected people who had nothing to do with Sandusky's crimes.

"Student athletes, trainers, coaches, administrators, and support personnel who had excelled in their jobs through hard work, practice, commitment, teamwork, sportsmanship, excellence, and perseverance were told none of that mattered," Covey wrote.

The opinion upheld the 2013 Endowment Act, passed by state legislators to keep the NCAA penalty funds in the commonwealth. But it also demonstrated how the fallout from the Sandusky case still ripples nearly two years after the former coach was convicted and sent to prison for at least 30 years.

In an unusual step, the judge ordered Penn State to become a party to a lawsuit filed last year by state Treasurer Rob McCord and State Sen. Jake Corman (R., Centre), seeking to enforce the newly enacted law. That ruling could open a window into what had been private negotiations between the NCAA and school leaders.

In a statement late Wednesday, an NCAA attorney called the court's ruling "entirely without basis" and promised to defend the penalty.

"If this decision stands, it would mean that the Endowment Act does not violate the Pennsylvania constitution, which it so clearly does," said NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy. He did not say whether the organization would appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The sanctions, which also included a four-year bowl ban and loss of scholarships, stemmed from what the NCAA called an unprecedented "failure of institutional and individual integrity" by Penn State and its leaders to detect or expose Sandusky's abuse of children.

Covey's opinion stopped short of fulfilling the request by McCord and Corman that the NCAA be ordered to obey that law. She said the law was valid but did not order the organization to follow it.

The ruling could lead to broader questions about the penalties - something Corman said he was eager to explore.

"Now that the court said that this is an open window of opportunity to deal with the issue . . . we will do everything in our power to continue that review and see where the court allows it to go," he said.

The ruling from Covey, a Bucks County resident with experience in labor law, created waves in the Penn State community.

Board member Anthony Lubrano, who has long been critical of the penalties and the school's decision to accept them, called the opinion "a very significant development" and said it was "as close to saying the board breached its fiduciary responsibility as anything you'll ever read."

Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, an alumni and student group that has been harshly critical of the board post-scandal, said in a statement that it hoped the opinion would spur the NCAA to lift all remaining sanctions against the school.

Commonwealth Court President Judge Dan Pelligrini, in a dissenting opinion, wrote that he shared the majority judges' concerns about the agreement between Penn State and the NCAA, but that his colleagues "spontaneously came up with that new cause of action, inferred from paragraphs in various defenses pled by the NCAA."


cpalmer@phillynews.com

609-217-8305

@cs_palmer

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