Pa. governor accuses NCAA of overreaching, files lawsuit asking dismissal of Penn State penalties

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, who accepted the NCAA sanctions in July, now says the Jerry Sandusky scandal was a criminal matter not subject to NCAA punishment.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, who accepted the NCAA sanctions in July, now says the Jerry Sandusky scandal was a criminal matter not subject to NCAA punishment.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Nearly six months after telling Penn State University to accept sanctions issued by the NCAA, Gov. Tom Corbett now says the penalties are “overreaching” and is asking a federal judge to throw them out.

Mr. Corbett, a Republican who as attorney general began the criminal investigation of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky that led to his conviction and to the NCAA sanctions, filed a 43-page lawsuit on Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

In that document and during a Wednesday news conference announcing the suit, the governor argued that the NCAA had no authority to punish Penn State over the Jerry Sandusky scandal and alleged cover-up by top university officials of child-abuse incidents.

“This was a criminal matter, not a violation of NCAA rules,” Mr. Corbett said.

The anti-trust lawsuit argues that Penn State did not violate any NCAA rules and attributes the school’s ultimate acceptance of the governing body’s penalties to threats that otherwise it would suspend Penn State’s football program.

The suit also targets NCAA President Mark Emmert, alleging that he exploited Penn State’s situation in an effort to show that his organization was tough on discipline.

The result, the governor said, has been collateral damage to the university and the surrounding State College community because of decreased activity at restaurants, hotels, and other businesses that cater to the football crowds.

“These sanctions did not punish Sandusky nor did they punish the others who have been charged,” Mr. Corbett said. “Rather, they punished the past, the present and the future students, current and former student-athletes, local businesses, and the citizens of Pennsylvania.”

A lawyer for the NCAA disagreed, calling the lawsuit “a setback to the university’s efforts.”

“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,” said Donald Remy, the NCAA’s executive vice president and general counsel.

Penn State University officials said the university is not a party to the lawsuit and was not involved in its preparation.

The governor’s suit also is separate from a legislative effort by Pennsylvania Sen. Jake Corman to ensure any fines paid by Penn State are spent only within Pennsylvania.

Penn State agreed in July to a set of NCAA sanctions that included paying $60 million — approximately one year’s gross football revenue, the agreement said — into an endowment for programs preventing child-sex abuse or assisting abuse victims.

Other penalties are a four-year ban on postseason play, sharp cuts in football scholarships, and forfeiture of 111 football wins going back to 1998.

When those penalties were announced in July, Mr. Corbett said, “Part of that corrective process is to accept the serious penalties.”

As for why he did not oppose the penalties sooner, Mr. Corbett said his office wanted to thoroughly research the issue and he did not want to make a filing during football season.

The abrupt public shift comes less than two weeks before a Democrat takes over the state attorney general’s office.

The incoming attorney general, Kathleen Kane, has been one of Mr. Corbett’s harshest critics on the handling of the Sandusky case. He did not consult with her before filing the lawsuit, but instead sought authority from outgoing Attorney General Linda Kelly, who was appointed to her post by Mr. Corbett when he became governor.

A spokesman for Ms. Kelly said the governor’s general counsel requested permission to handle the suit on Dec. 14, and Ms. Kelly responded on Dec. 17.

The Philadelphia law firm Cozen O’Connor also has been retained to work on the suit.

Through a spokesman, Ms. Kane, said, “As I was not consulted or briefed beforehand on the Commonwealth’s action against the NCAA, I must reserve comment until I have had an opportunity to review the case filing and receive a full briefing on the matter.”

The lawsuit does not estimate current or future economic damages, though it does list a wide swath of impacts that it states “will last well beyond the term of the sanctions.”

Those include a decline in the success of the football program and “a significant decline in the Penn State football program’s role as a revenue-generator for the university.” The loss of revenue will require the university to reduce the availability or quality of its programs, or raise tuition, according to the suit.

While home attendance was down again in 2012 —averaging 96,730, from a high of 108,917 in 2007 — Penn State still had the fifth-highest average attendance across the NCAA.

Other listed impacts are reduced alumni interest, lessened quality of campus life, injury to the Penn State football brand, as well as lost jobs, shrunken hospitality revenues, and other state revenue losses from diminished football-related activity.

“The stigma attached will diminish recruitment of students and student athletes, as well as the value of a Penn State education, for decades,” it states.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Laura Olson is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.

Contact Laura Olson at:, or 717-787-4254.