Family attorney: Paterno's estate joins suit against NCAA
Coaching legend Joe Paterno's estate will join several Penn State University trustees, former faculty members and former football players and coaches to sue the NCAA over penalties it imposed on the school, a family attorney said.
Paterno family attorney Wick Sollers argued on national television that the NCAA used a faulty report and coerced Penn State into accepting sanctions in July after the Jerry Sandusky child-rape scandal.
“There was no board approval. There was no transparency,” Sollers said Tuesday in an interview the NBC Sports Network released Wednesday. He said the university faced threats of “draconian penalties,” including the suspension of its entire football program, if it did not comply with the NCAA plan.
The university accepted a four-year ban on football bowl games, cuts in football scholarships and a $60 million fine. The NCAA stripped Penn State of 111 Paterno football victories from 1998 to 2011, dethroning him as the winningest coach in major college football. He died Jan. 22, 2012, at 85.
“The NCAA just wreaked enormous damage on this institution and this community. And this is one way to finally get the record right,” said Paterno spokesman Dan McGinn, who appeared with Sollers on NBC Sports' “Costas Tonight” program hosted by Bob Costas.
NCAA officials declined to comment because the Paterno family “has not shared any information about its planned legal action,” chief legal officer Donald Remy said.
“We remain committed to working with Penn State toward the continued successful completion of our voluntary agreement with the university and to working with (former) Sen. George Mitchell in assisting that process,” Remy said.
Mitchell, a former Democratic senator from Maine, serves as the school's athletics integrity monitor.
Penn State is not a party in the legal action and “remains committed to full compliance” with the sanctions, school spokesman David La Torre said in a prepared statement.
“Penn State maintains an unwavering commitment to excellence and integrity in all aspects of our university and continues to be a world-class educational institution of which our students, faculty, staff and alumni can be justifiably proud,” La Torre said.
The Paterno complaint will seek compensatory and punitive damages, and to have the sanctions declared illegal and unenforceable, Sollers told NBC. He said it will list NCAA President Mark Emmert, former Executive Committee Chairman Edward Ray and the NCAA as defendants.
Sollers did not respond to Tribune-Review requests for comment, though McGinn said he would speak Thursday. A news release Wednesday night announces six counts against the NCAA, including civil conspiracy, defamation and breach of contract. It identifies 21 plaintiffs, including university trustees Ryan McCombie, Anthony Lubrano, Al Clemens, Peter Khoury and Adam Taliaferro. Former Penn State assistant coaches William Kenney and Jay Paterno, a son of Joe Paterno, also appear among the plaintiffs.
The litigation will be filed Thursday in the Centre County Court of Common Pleas, according to the release.
The Paterno family began questioning the NCAA penalties shortly after the governing body announced them. In crafting the punishment, NCAA officials relied heavily on findings from Penn State's internal investigation into the Sandusky scandal. Former FBI Director Louis Freeh led that effort, which concluded Paterno and three former Penn State administrators for years helped conceal concerns about Sandusky, 69, a former defensive coordinator for the football team.
A Centre County jury convicted Sandusky last June of sexually abusing 10 young boys over 15 years, often on university property. He is serving a 30- to 60-year sentence in the state prison in Waynesburg while the three former administrators — Tim Curley, Gary Schultz and Graham Spanier — fight criminal cover-up charges stemming from the case.
Their attorneys and Paterno's family contend the Freeh report was critically flawed and incomplete, a conclusion supported in a 237-page rebuttal the Paternos released in February.
Gov. Tom Corbett had filed a lawsuit to challenge the NCAA sanctions a month earlier, arguing the organization overreached in its punishment of Penn State and violated antitrust laws.
The NCAA is seeking dismissal of that lawsuit.
Corbett doubles as a university trustee in his role as governor.
It appeared unclear Wednesday whether the Paterno estate would have legal standing to challenge the NCAA, said S. Michael Streib, a law professor at Duquesne University.
“It sounds like they are trying to form some type of group that's representative of the university community and presumably the interests of the university and that community,” Streib said. “To my knowledge, the only proper party to represent the interests of the university is the university, not a group of citizens — no matter how influential, important and involved they were.”
Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or firstname.lastname@example.org.