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Pennsylvania suing NCAA over Penn State sanctions. Does it have a case?

Gov. Corbett says the NCAA sanctions against Penn State in the Sandusky case irreparably harm Pennsylvania. One hurdle for the lawsuit: The university did not challenge the punishment.

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But Corbett asserts that, by relying on the Freeh report and not on its own policies for misconduct, NCAA officials “simply inserted themselves into an issue they had no authority to police and one that was clearly being handled by the justice system.”

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Ellen Staurowksy, who teaches sports management at Drexel University’s School of Education in Philadelphia, says the NCAA became vulnerable when it rushed to impose sanctions instead of deliberating with hearings that could bear out what she suggested were excessive sanctions.

“The NCAA overreached and really ought to have had the courts handle this case. There was no NCAA rule that was violated,” Ms. Staurowksy says. “Within their rule structure, there was no violation of athlete eligibility or under the table payments. So if the wrongdoing [in the Sandusky case] did not fall under the purview of the NCAA, then why did they sanction? That is what this case is challenging.”

Where the state might encounter difficulty is proving that the NCAA pressured Penn State President Rodney Erickson into what Corbett says was “silent compliance with its sanctions by threatening to impose even more debilitating sanctions to the football program.” In his complaint, Corbett wants the consent agreement the university signed with the NCAA to be declared illegal.

Mark Conrad, who teaches sports law at Fordham University in New York City, says the university took swift action in signing off with the NCAA actions without challenge, which will make it difficult to suggest they were coerced.

“It seems the university wanted to wash their hands of [the scandal] pretty quickly. I don’t know how [the state] is going to prove they were forced,” Mr. Conrad says.

After the sanctions were announced, Mr. Erickson said they would help usher the university into “a new chapter … in which people are not afraid to speak up, management is not compartmentalized, all are expected to demonstrate the highest ethical standards, and the operating philosophy is open, collegial, and collaborative.”

The NCAA responded to Corbett’s lawsuit Wednesday by issuing a statement from Executive Vice President Donald Remy that described it as “a setback to the university’s efforts” to move past the Sandusky scandal.

“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,” Mr. Remy said.

As part of the consent agreement, Penn State agreed that the $60 million fine would be directed into an endowment for programs preventing child sexual abuse or assisting victims of abuse. In December, Penn State filed the first $12 million installment into a money market account, where it will stay until a special NCAA taskforce creates the endowment.

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