Paterno family joining lawsuit against NCAA
STATE COLLEGE – The estate of the late Penn State coach Joe Paterno and several university trustees and former players plan to sue the NCAA over the landmark sanctions against the university for the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
The Paterno family’s attorney, Wick Sollers, is told Bob Costas on the NBC Sports Network’s “Costas Tonight” show airing Wednesday evening that former coaches and faculty members are part of the suit. Excerpts from Costas’ interviews with Sollers and other representatives for the family were provided by the network.
According to NBC Sports Network, Sollers said NCAA president Mark Emmert and Oregon State president Edward Ray – who was chairman of the NCAA’s executive committee – are also named in the planned litigation.
The lawsuit also takes issue with the NCAA’s use of former FBI director Louis Freeh’s scathing findings for the university on the scandal in levying the strict sanctions last July.
Among the penalties were a four-year bowl ban, steep scholarship cuts, and a $60 million fine. The NCAA also vacated 111 wins from Paterno’s record, meaning he would no longer hold the title of major college football’s winningest coach.
Sollers, in an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press, said lawyers planned to file the lawsuit today in state court in Centre County, home of Penn State’s flagship campus. The suit would ask for the sanctions and agreement between school and the NCAA to be deemed unlawful and the penalties overturned, he said.
The suit would also ask for unspecified damages and court costs, Sollers said, though the family would donate any net proceeds to charity.
“The broader goal is to get the truth out,” Sollers said. “This narrative that’s in public that was perpetuated by the NCAA’s adoption of the deeply flawed Freeh report … cannot stand.”
Freeh accused Paterno and three former university officials of concealing allegations against Sandusky, a retired defensive coordinator. Sandusky was sentenced to at least 30 years in prison after being convicted last year of dozens of criminal counts of abuse, including allegations on and off campus.
Paterno died in January 2012. His family and the former school officials have vehemently denied they took part in a cover-up.
The suit is designed “to redress the NCAA’s 100 percent adoption of the Freeh Report. … The reality is that consent decree was imposed through coercion and threats behind the scenes and there was no ability for anyone to get redress,” Sollers told Costas.
“There was no board approval, there was no transparency, and there was no consideration of this consent decree.”
The NCAA said Wednesday it had not received any such lawsuit and could not comment.
“Despite our request, the Paterno family has not shared any information about its planned legal action,” chief legal officer Donald Remy said in a statement. “We remain committed to working with Penn State toward the continued successful completion of our voluntary agreement with the university and to working” with the NCAA’s independent monitor, former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell.
Penn State spokesman Dave La Torre said the school itself was not a party to any litigation that might be filed by the Paterno family and remained committed to “full compliance” to the sanctions.
“We look forward to continuing to work with Sen. George Mitchell and recognize the important role that intercollegiate athletics provides for our student athletes and the wider university community,” said the statement from La Torre.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett has also filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA, which has also faced criticism for a botched investigation of Miami and departures in the enforcement division.
According to the excerpts, Sollers said Freeh is named as a “co-conspirator” in the lawsuit, and that there were close communications between the NCAA and Freeh’s team throughout the investigation.
“The NCAA stood on the sidelines instead of doing what they should have done with a full investigation. We have given a lot more allowance to Louis Freeh than he gave to Joe Paterno, and the people he named in his report,” Sollers said told Costas.
Dick Thornburgh, a former U.S. attorney general and Pennsylvania governor, was also interviewed by Costas. Thornburgh was an author of a critique released in February and commissioned by the Paterno family that called Freeh’s work a “rush to injustice.”