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Commonwealth Court seeks to examine Penn State-NCAA agreement

| Wednesday, April 9, 2014, 1:06 p.m.

HARRISBURG — A state court on Wednesday said it needs more information to examine whether Penn State and the NCAA acted legally when they entered into an agreement that imposed a $60 million fine and other penalties over the Jerry Sandusky molestation scandal.

Commonwealth Court ordered that Penn State be made a party to a lawsuit filed by a state senator and the state treasurer against the NCAA.

The suit seeks to enforce a 2013 state law requiring the NCAA fine to be spent on fighting child abuse in Pennsylvania.

The punishment affected athletes and others involved in the football program, people “who had excelled in their jobs through hard work, practice, commitment, teamwork, sportsmanship, excellence and perseverance,” wrote Judge Anne E. Covey for the majority.

“This court will not make a legal determination which has such far reaching implications without conducting a hearing on the disputed factual issues,” Covey wrote.

State Sen. Jake Corman, a Republican who represents the State College area and the prime sponsor of the law aimed at restricting where the fine money goes, said Wednesday he planned to meet with lawyers to discuss amending his lawsuit to make a wider challenge to the legality of the consent decree.

“We've always had concerns about it, the way the NCAA acted, and so now the court is seeing this as well,” Corman said.

State Treasurer Rob McCord, a Democrat running for governor and the other plaintiff in the case, released a statement saying he was pleased with the decision.

“It vindicates our view that the treasurer has an important custodial role in receiving the NCAA's penalty money,” McCord said.

In an emailed statement, NCAA Chief Legal Officer Donald Remy said the ruling “is entirely without basis.”

“The NCAA will continue to vigorously defend the consent decree, an agreement with Penn State that both the NCAA and Penn State continue to support,” Remy said.

A Penn State spokesman declined to comment.

Sandusky, who retired after spending decades at Penn State as an assistant to former head coach Joe Paterno, was convicted in 2012 of 45 counts of child sexual abuse and is serving a 30- to 60-year state prison sentence.

The state Supreme Court last week said it would not hear his direct appeal, but other legal avenues remain open as he seeks to have his conviction overturned.

Along with the $60 million fine, the deal between Penn State and the NCAA imposed a four-year ban on postseason play by the football team, temporarily reduced football scholarships and invalidated 112 wins from the later years of Paterno's career.

In a lone dissent, Judge Dan Pellegrini said he shared the majority's concerns about how the consent decree was entered into.

“Essentially, the majority spontaneously came up with (a) new cause of action, inferred from paragraphs in various defenses pled by the NCAA,” Pellegrini said. “Because we must only address the matters before us ... I respectfully dissent from that portion of the majority opinion.”

The court also denied Corman and McCord's request for judgment at the current stage of proceedings and said the disputed state law did not constitute impermissible “special legislation” aimed only at a narrow class of people.

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