Judge to Soon Decide Lawsuit Against NCAA over Penn State Sanctions

 

A federal judge said last Monday that she would decide in a few weeks whether to dismiss a lawsuit by Governor Corbett against the NCAA over sanctions against Pennsylvania State University stemming from the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal.

During a two-hour hearing before U.S. District Judge Yvette Kane, a lawyer for the NCAA said the suit had failed to prove there was an antitrust case and contended that the governor lacked standing to bring the suit.

Jerry Sandusky, left, with Penn State head coach Joe Paterno in 1999. Paterno's legendary career ended in turmoil when Penn State trustees determined he didn't do enough when he was informed of child-sex abuse allegations against Sandusky. Paterno was dismissed Nov. 9, 2011, and he died Jan. 22, 2012, of cancer.

Lawyers for the state argued that “crippling” sanctions against Penn State had created an economic hardship that constituted a breach of antitrust law and that Corbett had standing because only he could bring such a suit on behalf of the citizens of Pennsylvania.

Corbett said in January he was suing the NCAA over “overreaching and unlawful” sanctions imposed against Penn State in July, saying he wanted lifting of the sanctions – which include a $60 million fine, the loss of 20 scholarships, and a four-year ban on postseason play by the football team.

The university agreed to the sanctions over its handling of the scandal involving Sandusky, a former assistant football coach who was convicted of 45 counts of child sex abuse and is serving a 30- to 60-year prison sentence.

Melissa Maxman, a lawyer with Cozen O’Connor, which was hired to assist with the case, suggested that the NCAA had an ulterior motive for imposing the sanctions.

“We allege that the NCAA had no reason to get involved but as a pretext to burnish its sullied reputation for being soft on enforcement,” she said.

Scott Ballenger, a lawyer with Latham & Watkins in Washington, said the NCAA took “extraordinary action” in response to extraordinary events that threatened the integrity of the institution, higher education, and college athletics in general.

“Honesty is clearly an enforceable NCAA rule,” he said. “It’s impossible to deny that Penn State violated this rule that had absolutely nothing to do with regulation of commerce.”

Maxman said the penalties would have a ripple effect far beyond the university and would cost the state and taxpayers hundreds of millions.

Without the scholarships and postseason play, Penn State football will no longer be the economic powerhouse it once was and will draw fewer fans spending less money on hotels, restaurants, and memorabilia, which could threaten jobs, she argued.

Kane had pointed questions for both sides over the parameters of antitrust law and whether Penn State agreed to accept the sanctions under extenuating conditions.

Maxman contended that Penn State president Rodney Erickson was acting “under duress” when he accepted them.

Kane, while giving no indication which way she would rule, said the two sides were “not in the same stadium” when it came to what constituted a violation of antitrust law.

Cozen O’Connor lawyers are being paid from $285 to $585 an hour for their work, according to the state contract. State general counsel James Schultz has said a $200,000 cap on the legal fees charged would likely be amended to a higher figure, but a spokesman for Schultz said last Monday night he did not know whether the cap had been exceeded.

Amy Worden is staff writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Contact Worden at aworden@phillynews.com, or follow @inkyamy on Twitter.

 

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