Pennsylvania Sues NCAA Over Penn State Sanctions

For some reason, Pennsylvania's Governor has chosen to reopen the wounds from the Jerry Sandusky scandal.


As expected, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett today announced that the state had filed a lawsuit against the NCAA seeking to overturn the sanctions that were imposed on Penn State arising out of the Jerry Sandusky scandal:

Pennsylvania’s governor announced Wednesday that the state was suing the N.C.A.A. over the sanctions it imposed on Penn State and its football program in light of the university’s child sex abuse scandal, saying the penalties were “overreaching and unlawful.”

Gov. Tom Corbett said in a news conference that the N.C.A.A. punishment handed down last July violated federal antitrust laws, harming the state’s residents. He said the lawsuit, filed Wednesday, would ask a federal court to throw out all of the sanctions against Penn State, including a $60 million fine, the vacating of 10 years’ worth of victories and a four-year ban on postseason play that began this season.

Corbett said Penn State officials agreed to the N.C.A.A. sanctions under the threat of a worse punishment and while also facing the public shame of the controversy surrounding the former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky is now in prison, serving 30 to 60 years after being convicted on 45 counts of abuse. Three university officials, including the former president Graham B. Spanier, have been criminally charged with taking steps to cover up the misconduct.

“These sanctions did not punish Sandusky,” Corbett told reporters, “nor did they punish the others who have been criminally charged. Rather, they punished the past, the present, the local businesses and the citizens of Pennsylvania.”

The N.C.A.A. said in a statement that it was disappointed by the lawsuit and called it 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,” Donald Remy, the organization’s general counsel, said. “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.”

What Corbett fails to mention here, of course, is that the sanctions were never intended to punish Sandusky or any of the other that were criminally charged in connection with his crimes. Instead, they were directed at punishing the school’s football program for that fact that, for more than a decade, the school engaged in what was clearly a systematic cover up of Sandusky’s crime that was clearly designed to protect the image of the football program at the expense of the children that Sandusky victimized. It was, admittedly, an unusual, indeed unprecedented, use of the NCAA’s sanction powers, but the corruption that had become endemic at Happy Valley was a problem that needed to be dealt with. Even Penn State, which is not a party to this lawsuit, recognized this given that they consented to the sanctions entered against them. Corbett’s attempt to undo those sanctions is effectively an argument that the PSU football program should not be punished at all for what it did, and I don’t see how that can be a morally defensible position.

Sportswriter Christine Brennan rips into Corbett:

Has no one in Pennsylvania learned anything over the past 14 months, since the news of the Sandusky horrors broke?

Corbett and any other state leader who participated in what at times sounded like the pleadings of the paranoid Wednesday morning proved once and for all that their stunning obsession with Penn State football – an obsession that led to the Penn State cover-up that led to more young boys being raped by Sandusky — still controls the state.

The crux of Corbett’s case is that the unprecedented NCAA sanctions were “overreaching and unlawful” and an “attack” on the economy of the state.

But, on July 23, 2012, Corbett welcomed the NCAA sanctions, saying, “The appalling actions of a few people have brought us once again into the national spotlight. We have taken a monster off the streets and while we will never be able to repair the injury done to these children, we must repair the damage to this university. Part of that corrective process is to accept the serious penalties imposed (Wednesday) by the NCAA on Penn State University and its football program.”

So which one is it, Governor? This couldn’t have anything to do with trying to convince football coach Bill O’Brien to stay at Penn State and not bolt to the NFL, could it? (Although, after that performance this morning, one would think O’Brien would know that ripping the scab off the terrible wounds at Penn State is the last thing that will encourage already wary recruits to commit.)

It’s not a coincidence at all that the announcement was made Wednesday, right after the New Year’s Day bowl games. Corbett said he “didn’t want to file during football season to take away from the team’s momentum.”

He actually said those words. Something this vitally important had to wait for the football season to end? If this weren’t such a serious topic, if this weren’t so pathetic and appalling, it would be laughable. Who is running this state, Barney Fife?

That pretty much sums up the argument. In all honesty, I can’t help but think that this is in part motivated not only by the potential departure of Penn State’s Head Coach for the NFL, but by the fact that Corbett faces re-election in 2014. Sticking up for Penn State will no doubt go cover well in some parts of the state. Legally, it doesn’t seem to me that the lawsuit has all that much legal merit. The sole legal claim made is one under the Sherman Antitrust Act, but the factual allegations all revolve around the supposed damage that would be suffered by PSU and the surrounding community if the sanctions were allowed to go forward. The NCAA is a private organization and has the right to set the rules that govern its members, it strikes me as the height of arrogance for Corbett to attempt to use the Courts to get around that. More importantly, though, as Brennan notes above, filing this lawsuit essentially argues that Penn State should not be held responsible for what was clearly wrongdoing over an extended period of time.  It’s a slap in the face to the victims and the entire Penn State community.

Here’s the Complaint itself:

2013 01 02 Pennsylvania Ncaa Lawsuit

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Sports, US Politics, , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Al says:

    Maybe they should just change the state’s motto from “Virtue, Liberty and Independence” to “Child abuse builds character!”

  2. Graham says:

    When this all came to light, I joked that they ought to drop Penn State’s football program from the NCAA forever, burn down the campus, bulldoze the ashes, and salt the earth as a warning to future generations of the consequences of the football program’s monstrous hubris.

    Now I’m starting to think maybe this wouldn’t have been an overreaction.

  3. Tyrell says:

    This could be resulting from their faulty and apparent hasty judgement against the Saints team.

  4. Hal 10000 says:

    The idea that Corbett has the interests of the U at heart is laughable. He tried to cut state funding for higher ed by 50% in 2011 (and got a 30% cut). Tried to cut it again last year. Didn’t attend board meetings until the scandal broke. Made no secret of his distate for Joe. ESPN did a great story about this last year.

    This is purely political. Corbett is coming under fire for his handling of the mess while he was AG and it is hurting his re-election prospects (he got lots of donations from Second Mile). But the sanctions are also unpopular. So he thinks that coming out against them will help his re-election prospects. Once the election is over, he will go back to ignoring the U.

    BTW, I highly recommend Michael Berube’s article about why he resigned the Paterno chair as well as Gladwell’s look at child molesters. Both are very fair about the whole mess.

  5. Drew says:

    C’mon, guys. The Gov got religion when he figured out the money wasn’t all going to the state coffers.


  6. An Interested Party says:

    It would be a real shame if this move backfired on Corbett by causing some dirt to be thrown on him and his role in this scandal…a real shame…

  7. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Separate but related topic:

    Given the systemic unemployment and underemployment with which Gen. Y is saddled, and the fact that their future job prospects even are more grim, you can make a colorable argument that what states should do, rather than continuing to throw good taxpayer dollars after bad outcomes, is at least partially to decouple from taxpayers and to move towards for-profit vocational training, rather than traditional higher education, and for-profit athletics.

    Instead of taking all the vast sums of money generated by these top-tier football programs at public schools and handing out huge salaries, benefits and pensions to airheaded academics and administrators, that money could be sent back to taxpayers in the form of credits and stipends.

    The fewer useless degrees on the public dime the better. The less public money spent on the higher education bubble the better. The fewer educators sucking from the public teat of big salaries, pensions and healthcare benefits the better.

    There would be drawbacks too, of course, but desperate times often call for desperate measures.

  8. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: What percentage of the average large land-grant university budget do you think comes from taxpayers?

  9. John D'Geek says:

    @Hal 10000: Thanks for posting those two links, they were very good. They also clarify for me why I’m so disgusted with the whole situation: Joe Paterno was vilified for following the rules.

    Fire the whole (censored) Board of Directors as far as I’m concerned, but Joe did what the rules said to do. The NCAA rules (as Doug, IIRC, posted before) didn’t have anything about this either, so how they get off enforcing non-existent rules are beyond me.