The NCAA and Penn State lost a key battle last week on the legality of the hotly contested consent decree that levied historic sanctions against the university in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
Commonwealth Court Judge Anne E. Covey issued a ruling Friday on the NCAA’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed in September by state Sen. Jake Corman and Treasurer Rob McCord. Corman and McCord’s lawsuit objects to the consent decree and asks that $60 million in NCAA-imposed fines stay in Pennsylvania under the terms of the 2012 Higher Education Monetary Penalty Endowment Act.
In filing the motion to dismiss, the NCAA essentially asked to walk away from the lawsuit, saying that because the university had agreed to pay the fine — and the NCAA agreed — the lawsuit was moot.
In her order, Covey disagreed, saying the NCAA and Penn State were trying to “usurp the court’s authority by declaring the consent decree valid.”
“The consent decree’s validity is the very issue that this court concluded has far-reaching implications and will not be decided until after a hearing on the disputed factual issues,” she said. “The NCAA and PSU cannot dismiss themselves from litigation by declaring the consent decree valid and simply agreeing to do that which the law already requires.”
Corman, a Centre County Republican, said Saturday in refusing to dismiss the case, Covey conceded that the NCAA may not have had the power to hand down the sanctions against Penn State.
The sanctions were too broad, said Corman, punishing people who had no involvement in Sandusky’s criminal activity.
“It’s not an athletic issue, it’s a criminal issue,” he said. “Now, it will come under review of the court, which is a good thing.”
Corman said he expects the trial will be in January, but a date hasn’t been set. He said his lawyer will be preparing for upcoming discovery and deposition.
Donald Remy, chief legal officer for the NCAA, said the collegiate organization was surprised by the judge’s decision.
“As previously stated, the NCAA decided not to contest the Endowment Act, despite its belief that it is unconstitutional, so that the proceeds of the consent decree fine could be distributed expeditiously to organizations seeking to prevent child sexual abuse and care for child sexual abuse survivors,” Remy said in a statement.
Covey’s order, Remy said, “has unilaterally and indefinitely delayed distribution of those funds.”
Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers did not immediately return calls for comment.
The university saw several of the sanctions in the decree rolled back in September, including the ban on postseason play and limits on scholarships. The vacation of 112 wins under former head coach Joe Paterno between 1998 and 2011 remains.
Paterno’s son, a former assistant football coach, took to Twitter hailing the judge’s ruling as “a win.”
“This ruling is a win for those who love PSU — The consent decree will have to face the winds of truth in a court of law,” Jay Paterno said.