HARRISBURG, Pa. - Pennsylvania's governor announced Wednesday that he intends to file a federal antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA in an effort to overturn what he said were "harsh penalties" against Penn State because of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
Gov. Tom Corbett, flanked by members of his staff and current and former students and athletes from the school, says the NCAA punished students, the community and businesses around the university, not the former assistant football coach who molested children.
“Penn State football has played a major role, not only as a focus of campus life, but as a generator of revenue for a proud university, a leading tourist attraction and a creator of jobs in the state,’’ Corbett said. “In the wake of this terrible scandal, Penn State was left to heal and clean up this tragedy that was created by the few. The students, the alumni, the board, the administration and faculty all came together at that moment and began to rebuild. At that same time, while the healing was taking place, the NCAA piled on, choosing to levy, in their words, ‘unprecedented sanctions’ against Penn State and its football program.”
The sanctions imposed in July included a $60 million fine for child abuse prevention grants, a four-year bowl game ban for the university's marquee football program and the forfeiture of 112 wins.
“These punishments threaten to have a devastating, long-lasting and irreparable effect on the state, its citizens and its economy,’’ Corbett said.
The governor, on behalf of Pennsylvania’s citizens, asked the court to throw out all of the NCAA’s sanctions, including the $60 million fine, and asked that the court declare the consent agreement illegal.
“While what occurred at Penn State was both criminal and heinous,’’ Corbett said. “The conduct for which Penn State was sanctioned consisted of alleged failures to report criminal activity on campus that did not impact fairness or integrity on the playing field.’’
After months of research and deliberation, as well as discussions with alumni, students, faculty, business owners and elected officials, Corbett said he has concluded that the NCAA’s sanctions were “overreaching and unlawful.’’
“The only logical conclusion is that the NCAA did it because they benefited from the penalties and because the leadership of the NCAA believed they could. And that’s wrong,’’ Corbett said. “These sanctions are an attack on past, present and future students of Penn State, the citizens of our commonwealth and our economy. As governor of this commonwealth, I cannot and will not stand by and let it happen without a fight.’’
Joe Paterno's family said it's encouraged by word that Corbett is filing a federal lawsuit against the NCAA over its sanctions against Penn State.
The family of the late football coach released a statement Wednesday that says that Corbett "now realizes, as do many others, that there was an inexcusable rush to judgment" in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal.
The NCAA imposed a $60 million fine, a multiyear bowl ban and other penalties in the wake of a report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh that concluded Paterno and other Penn State officials covered up abuse reports. The scandal cost Paterno his job two months before his death last January at age 85.
Meanwhile, the NCAA said Wednesday it's disappointed that Pennsylvania's governor is suing the college athletics organization over its decision to issue landmark sanctions against Penn State.
NCAA executive vice president and general counsel Donald Remy said Wednesday that the lawsuit appears to be without merit.
He called it "an affront to all of the victims" of Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant football coach convicted of molesting 10 boys.
Pennsylvania Attorney General-elect Kathleen Kane said she is reserving comment on Corbett's lawsuit.
Kane said Wednesday she was not briefed or consulted on the lawsuit. She said she'll withhold comment until she reads the filing and receives a full briefing about it.
Kane, a former Lackawanna County prosecutor and a Democrat, is scheduled to be sworn in as Pennsylvania's chief legal officer on Jan. 15.
In announcing the antitrust suit Wednesday, the Republican governor said the current attorney general, Linda Kelly -- whom he appointed -- granted him authority to pursue the case.
Corbett's top legal adviser, James Schultz, said he'll talk with Kane about the lawsuit later in the day.