STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — The NCAA asked a Pennsylvania court on Tuesday to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the family of the late coach Joe Paterno that seeks to overturn the sanctions against Penn State for the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
Some trustees, former players and coaches and current faculty members are also taking part in the same lawsuit, which the NCAA said was flawed and contained “various significant legal deficiencies.”
College sports’ governing body said in the filing in Centre County court late Tuesday that the civil suit must be dismissed in part because the university itself isn’t part of the suit. The sanctions handed down in July 2012 were agreed to by the NCAA and the university president.
The NCAA also firmly denied a claim that it had conspired with former FBI director Louis Freeh’s team in formulating the sanctions. Freeh led the school’s internal investigation into the scandal, and the Paterno family and three former school officials have vehemently denied Freeh’s scathing allegations of a cover-up.
“Their suit complains primarily about the conclusions of the Freeh Report, conducted at the behest of the Penn State Board, and the university’s acceptance of its findings,” NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy said in a statement outlining the organization’s arguments. “The NCAA did not commission the Freeh Report nor had any role in it.
It was the NCAA’s first response to the case since the lawsuit was filed in late May. The NCAA also asked for related complaints against NCAA president Mark Emmert and Oregon State president Ed Ray to be dismissed for lack of merit. Ray was chair of the NCAA executive committee when the penalties were announced.
“Universities must be free to manage their own affairs, including their membership in the NCAA, without interference by disappointed or disgruntled individuals,” Remy said. “While the plaintiffs may be unhappy with the conclusions and university’s acceptance of the Freeh Report, the plaintiffs in this case were not sanctioned by the NCAA and have no legal basis to sue.”
Paul Kelly, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs other than the Paterno family, said Tuesday he had not a chance yet to review the NCAA’s lengthy response.
The landmark sanctions were announced a year ago Tuesday, on July 23, 2012. They included a four-year bowl ban, steep scholarship cuts and a $60 million fine.
The penalties, and the NCAA’s handling of the Penn State case, remain the subject of scrutiny among some alumni, area residents and Pennsylvania politicians, as well as in the courts.
Earlier Tuesday, three trustees who took seats earlier this month offered support for the five board colleagues involved in the litigation. The suit said that the NCAA bypassed the organization’s own rules in levying penalties against the football program with uncharacteristic speed.
The lawsuit also attacks Freeh’s handling of the internal investigation, along with how and why the NCAA used Freeh’s report as a basis for sanctions. “We firmly believe that truth and justice should never fear an open hearing and review — whether in the courts or before the Board of Trustees,” trustees Ted Brown, Barbara Doran and William Oldsey said in their joint statement.
The alumni-elected trustees elected this spring were endorsed by an alumni watchdog group that has been critical of the decisions of board leaders after the scandal began with Sandusky’s arrest in November 2011, including Paterno’s firing.
The NCAA filing came on the same day that Penn State issued a statement on bowl revenue. The school’s nearly $2.3 million share of bowl revenue has been divided among the Big Ten’s 12 member schools, including Penn State, to distribute for causes focused on child protection or advocacy. The school said the individual share for each school amounted to more than $188,000.
The Nittany Lions finished the 2012 season bowl-eligible at 8-4, but were banned from the postseason as part of NCAA sanctions for the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. The $2.3 million represents Penn State’s share of conference bowl revenue had the school been allowed to play in the postseason.
Penn State said its portion of the carved-up bowl share would be funneled through the Centre County United Way with instructions to split the money between the Stewards of Children program and the Children’s Advocacy Center.
Coach Bill O’Brien and three players are scheduled to take part in Big Ten media days beginning Wednesday in Chicago.
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