PHILADELPHIA — Joe Paterno’s family is suing the National Collegiate Athletic Association over penalties levied against Penn States and its football program for its role in the Jerry Sandusky sexual-abuse case.
In a complaint filed Thursday in state court in Bellefonte, Pa., the family of the deceased coach and five members of the school’s board of trustees said the NCAA improperly interfered and grossly mishandled a criminal matter outside the scope of its authority. The NCAA’s actions also interfered with contractual relations and defamed the Paternos, they said.
“This case is further proof that the NCAA has lost all sense of its mission,” Wick Sollers, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement. “An illegally imposed penalty that is based on false assumptions and secret discussions is a disservice to the victims and everyone else who cares about the truth of the Sandusky scandal.”
Paterno, who set records for on-field success as the coach of Penn State’s Nittany Lions, died Jan. 22, 2012, at the age of 85. He was fired in November 2011 after 46 seasons at the university, following criticism that he failed to contact police when told of an abuse case involving Sandusky, an ex-assistant.
The Paternos’ suit is the third against the NCAA over the sanctions, which include a $60 million fine to be paid in five installments.
Penn State’s football program also was stripped of 112 wins from 1998 through 2011 and barred from bowl games for four years, matching the longest postseason ban in the history of the NCAA.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, sued the NCAA in January, arguing that the sanctions violated antitrust law. State Sen. Jake Corman, also a Republican, sued seeking to direct funds from the penalties to state programs. Penn State, which agreed to the sanctions, isn’t a plaintiff in those complaints.
NCAA officials didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment on today’s complaint. David La Torre, a spokesman for Penn State, declined to comment.
Sandusky, 69, who spent 31 seasons as a defensive assistant under Paterno, was sentenced in October to at least 30 years in prison for sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period.
A July 2012 report commissioned by the university said Paterno and three senior school officials, including president Graham Spanier, who was fired, hid critical facts surrounding Sandusky’s abuse in an attempt to avoid bad publicity.
The Paterno family said in February that the report was fundamentally flawed. The university’s board of trustees and the NCAA relied on the report, which was prepared by Louis Freeh, the former director of the FBI, without appropriate review or analysis, the family said in a statement at the time.
Former U.S. attorney general Dick Thornburgh and other experts hired by the family said they determined in a review of evidence that Paterno didn’t attempt to hide any information or impede the probe into Sandusky.
Paterno’s name and reputation have been damaged by the allegations, his family said in Thursday’s complaint. Freeh’s report and statements made in the school’s consent decree on the late coach’s character have caused “irreparable and substantial pecuniary harm to the current and long-term value of his estate,” according to the filing.
Paterno’s son Jay and another former Penn State coach, William Kenney, have similarly suffered damages to their reputation and have been unable to secure employment as a result of the case and sanctions, according to the filing. Jay Paterno quit in January 2012 after 17 years as an assistant coach.
Attorneys for the NCAA, based in Indianapolis, argued at a May 20 court hearing that the sanctions were necessary and the response extraordinary because of the horrifying nature of the crime. The NCAA asked a federal judge to dismiss Corbett’s suit, arguing the governor lacked standing to bring the case. A decision is pending.
The NCAA has never before interpreted its rules to permit intervention in criminal matters unrelated to athletic competition, the Paternos said in their complaint.
The organization forced Penn State to accept the sanctions after consulting with Freeh’s firm during the investigation. Penn State President Rodney Erickson failed to seek the trustees’ approval before agreeing to the penalties, according to the complaint.