STATE COLLEGE – Gov. Corbett said on Wednesday that he will file suit against the NCAA for what he called “overreaching and unlawful sanctions” placed on Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky case.
The federal suit alleges that the NCAA seized on the publicity of the Sandusky case "to make a showing of aggressive discipline on the backs of the citizens of the commonwealth."
Corbett said at a crowded news conference that the college sports governing body had no authority to penalize the university in what was strictly a criminal matter and that the $60 million fine and other sanctions only harmed innocent people.
“These sanctions did not punish Sandusky or the others who were criminally charged,” said Corbett. “They punished past, present and future students.”
Corbett, flanked by 40 supporters, including lawmakers, local business and student leaders, and former Penn State football players, said he filed the federal antitrust suit on behalf of Pennsylvania citizens in an effort to overturn the penalties agreed to by Penn State’s president and board of trustees.
In July, the NCAA imposed a $60 million fine for child abuse prevention, issued a four-year bowl game ban and stripped the school of football scholarships and other penalties.
At the time the deal was announced, Corbett - also a member of the university's board of trustees – said that part of the "corrective process is to accept the serious penalties."
But on Wednesday Corbett said the punishments against the second most profitable collegiate sports program in the country "threaten to have a devastating, long-lasting and irreparable effect on the state, its citizens and its economy.”
The NCAA said it was disappointed by the governor’s action and called it a setback to the university’s efforts to restore its reputation.
“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 M. Remy, the NCAA’s executive vice president and general counsel. “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.”
Corbett defended waiting six months after the NCAA issued its sanctions because he said he wanted to conduct thorough legal research first and did not want to disrupt the football season.
He said he would hire outside counsel – specifically the law firm Cozen O’Connor – to handle the case because of the attorney general’s workload in the ongoing Sandusky prosecutions.
Corbett said that Attorney General Linda Kelly told him that she and her staff were engaged in the criminal prosecution of the other defendants in the Sandusky case who have not yet been tried: former president Graham Spanier, former athletic director Tim Curley and former vice president Gary Schultz.
Newly-elected attorney general Kathleen Kane, a Democrat who has said one of her top priorities is launching an investigation into how then-Attorney General Corbett handled the Sandusky case, takes office on Jan. 15.
Corbett ‘s chief counsel Jim Schultz said Kane had not yet been briefed on the suit but that he would speak to her after the news conference.
Corbett, who has been under fire over the length of time it took to indict Sandusky and also on the timing of the announcement of his arrest coming after Corbett’s election as governor.
Corbett said on Wednesday that “no politics were involved in this decision.”
The announcement comes six months after the NCAA issued its penalty against Penn State following revelations of the university’s role in covering up the Sandusky case. The former Penn State assistant coach was sentenced in August to 30 to 60 years for abusing 10 boys.
In addition to the fine, the NCAA barred Penn State from participating in bowl games for four years and erased years of winning records.
In a statement issued after the news conference, Penn State did not reference the lawsuit, saying only it would abide by the terms of the consent decree it entered into with the NCAA.
It was unclear exactly to what extent the football sanctions have directly harmed area hotels, restaurants and shops, but local and state business leaders said they saw a decline in business this fall that they attribute to the NCAA actions.
“When the NCAA imposes sanctions you have to realize it has an impact on the business community,” said Gene Barr, president of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce, who stood with Corbett at the news conference.
Michael Desmond, a State College business owner who also was at the news conference, said his seven restaurants were doing 10 percent less business on football weekends and, with sanctions in place until 2016, he is concerned about the future impact in coming seasons.
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