By Tony Romeo and Oren Liebermann
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (CBS) — Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett today announced a lawsuit against the NCAA for what he says are “unlawful” and “overreaching” sanctions against Penn State University related to the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
Corbett alleges that the National Collegiate Athletic Association is a trade organization that violated its own rules in the way it handed down punishments to Penn State in the aftermath of the Sandusky case.
“The only logical conclusion is that the NCAA did it because they benefited from the penalties and because the leadership of the NCAA believed that it could,” Corbett said today.
But the governor says top NCAA officials simply inserted themselves into an issue they had no authority to police.
Corbett, flanked by members of his staff and current and former students and athletes from the school, says the NCAA punished students, the community, and businesses around the university — not the former assistant football coach who molested children.
The sanctions imposed in July included a $60-million fine for child abuse prevention grants, a four-year bowl game ban for the university’s marquee football program, and the forfeiture of 112 wins.
Meanwhile, Corbett’s general counsel, Jim Schultz, says it’s not unusual for the governor’s office to take action like this, instead of the attorney general.
“We typically have delegations back and forth between the attorney general’s office and the office of general counsel all the time,” Schultz said.
But in this case, of course, a new attorney general, a Democrat, will take office in less than a month. Administration officials say they will meet with Kathleen Kane about the lawsuit.
Last July, Corbett released a statement saying part of the “corrective process” for Penn State following the Sandusky affair was to accept the NCAA’s serious sanctions. The governor today addressed the reason why he has now decided to file an antitrust lawsuit.
“First, I wanted to thoroughly research the issue and make sure that we were on solid legal footing,” he said. “I also didn’t want to make the same mistake the NCAA made by carelessly rushing in.”
The governor also says he didn’t want to create a distraction during football season.
“I don’t think you would say he changed his mind,” said Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley afterward. “I would say as he moved forward, he determined and found out the NCAA did not follow their own bylaws.”
Following Corbett’s announcement, the NCAA issued a statement from Donald Remy, its general counsel. The statement said, “We are disappointed by the Governor’s action today. Not only does this forthcoming lawsuit appear to be without merit, it is an affront to all of the victims in this tragedy — lives that were destroyed by the criminal actions of Jerry Sandusky. While the innocence that was stolen can never be restored, Penn State has accepted the consequences for its role and the role of its employees and is moving forward. Today’s announcement by the Governor is a setback to the University’s efforts.”
Meanwhile, the family of the late Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno says it is encouraged by word of Corbett’s federal lawsuit against the NCAA.
The family released a statement saying that Corbett “now realizes, as do many others, that there was an inexcusable rush to judgment” in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal.