HARRISBURG – The NCAA said Thursday a judge should throw out the federal antitrust lawsuit the governor filed against it over Penn State’s $60 million fine and other penalties resulting from the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal.
College sports’ governing body said in a filing that it disagrees with just about every allegation in the complaint against it initiated by Gov. Tom Corbett last month.
The NCAA said the penalties imposed under a July consent decree with the university are unrelated to regulation of economic activity, so antitrust law does not apply. It also argued Corbett lacks standing to sue and called his lawsuit “an inappropriate attempt to drag the federal courts into an intra-state political dispute.”
“The remedial measures that Penn State agreed to were controversial, and have elicited strong feelings on all sides,” the NCAA’s lawyers wrote. “Some think they are too harsh, and some think they are too lenient. But none of those feelings have anything to do with the antitrust laws.”
Corbett, a Republican, has said the NCAA overstepped its authority in punishing Penn State. His spokesman Nils Frederiksen said Thursday his lawyers will review the NCAA’s filing “and respond as appropriate.”
Corbett claimed in his lawsuit the NCAA “piled on” when it penalized Penn State over the Sandusky scandal. He asked that a federal judge throw out the sanctions, which include a four-year ban on bowl games, arguing that the measures have harmed students, business owners and others who had nothing to do with Sandusky’s crimes.
The NCAA, in its federal court filing, disagreed.
“It is exceptionally unlikely that sanctions temporarily impairing one school’s prowess on the football field would render any of these robust nationwide economic markets less competitive, such that Stanford suddenly could raise tuition, Michigan could offer fewer or less valuable football scholarships, or Notre Dame could charge more for branded football jerseys,” the NCAA said in the new filing.
The case could define just how far the NCAA’s authority extends. Up to now, the federal courts have allowed the organization broad powers to protect the integrity of college athletics.
Even if the factual claims in Corbett’s lawsuit are true, the NCAA said, the matter involves Penn State, not the Pennsylvania residents on whose behalf the antitrust action was made.
Penn State said it had no role in the lawsuit. In fact, it agreed not to sue as part of the deal with the NCAA accepting the sanctions, which were imposed in July after an investigation found that football coach Joe Paterno and other top officials hushed up sexual-abuse allegations against Sandusky, a former member of Paterno’s staff, for more than a decade for fear of bad publicity.
Sandusky, who’s in his late 60s, was convicted in June of sexually abusing 10 boys, some of them on Penn State’s campus. He is serving a 30- to 60-year prison sentence but insists he’s innocent.
The penalties against Penn State include a cut in the number of football scholarships the university can award and a rewriting of the record books to erase 14 years of victories under Paterno, who was fired when the scandal broke in late 2011 and died of lung cancer shortly after.
The lawsuit represents a reversal by the governor. When Penn State’s president consented to the sanctions last summer, Corbett, a member of the Board of Trustees, embraced them as part of the university’s effort to repair the damage from the Sandusky scandal.
Corbett said he waited to sue over the penalties because he wanted to thoroughly research the legal issues and did not want to interfere with the football season.
Two Pennsylvania congressmen, Charlie Dent and Glenn Thompson, called for the NCAA to restore football scholarships taken away from Penn State, saying in a letter last month the sanctions unfairly punish innocent student-athletes for the child sex abuse scandal.
Penn State officials and Paterno’s family deny there was a cover-up of allegations against Sandusky.