NCAA argues Paterno family, others not eligible to sue it
BELLEFONTE — Attorneys for the NCAA told a judge on Tuesday that the estate of former Penn State University football coach Joe Paterno and more than a dozen other plaintiffs lack legal standing to sue the governing body of college sports.
Judge John Leete heard oral arguments for more than three hours and will decide whether the case should move forward, though he did not say when he would rule. Among allegations he must consider are breach of contract, contract interference, defamation, civil conspiracy and commercial disparagement by the NCAA.
Four university trustees, four faculty members and a few former Penn State coaches and players joined the Paterno family in May to sue the NCAA.
They claim the NCAA erred when it imposed unprecedented sanctions on the football program in July 2012 because of the university's handling of the child sex abuse case against former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
Members of the Paterno family, including his son Scott, were in Centre County Court. Leete scheduled the hearing when the NCAA asked in July to toss the lawsuit.
Plaintiffs asked the court to invalidate a consent decree that Penn State President Rodney Erickson signed. The decree imposed penalties that include a four-year bowl ban, a reduction of scholarships, a $60 million fine and vacation of 111 wins while Paterno was head coach.
The NCAA agreed last month to reinstate some scholarships faster than it initially intended.
Everett Johnson, an attorney for the NCAA, said invalidating the consent decree would open the school to another investigation and potentially harsher penalties.
Anthony Lubrano, a Penn State trustee and plaintiff, said after the hearing that he thinks that's a hollow threat and believes the NCAA didn't have jurisdiction to impose penalties.
The plaintiffs argued the NCAA was not within its rights to sanction Penn State because the association did not follow its bylaws and independently investigate. It levied sanctions based on a university-commissioned investigation that concluded Paterno and other administrators didn't do enough to stop Sandusky from molesting boys.
“They were acting completely in uncharted waters with nothing whatsoever to support them on it,” said Joseph Loveland, attorney for the plaintiffs.
Penn State is not a party in the lawsuit and waived its right to bring legal action against the NCAA when Erickson signed the decree. However, the NCAA argued that in order for the judge to render a decision, Penn State would have to be a party in the lawsuit because the outcome would directly affect its rights.
“There's a big, missing elephant in this room, and that's Penn State University,” Johnson said.
Attorneys for the NCAA declined to comment after the hearing.
Penn State on Monday announced it settled with 26 men who claimed abuse by Sandusky. The settlements totaled about $59.7 million.
Sandusky, 69, is serving a 30- to 60-year prison sentence for abusing 10 boys in and around the Penn State campus and his State College home.
Three former Penn State administrators await trial on charges they knowingly covered up the abuse. Paterno died in January 2012 of complications from lung cancer.
Anna Orso is a freelance reporter based in State College.