Share This Page

NCAA argues Paterno family, others not eligible to sue it

| Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, 4:06 p.m.
In this Aug. 6, 1999 file photo, Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno, right, poses with his defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky during Penn State Media Day at State College, Pa. A lawsuit by Joe Paterno's family and others against the NCAA went to court Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, one day after Penn State announced settlements with 26 young men over claims of abuse by Jerry Sandusky.

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.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.