Published May 30, 2013
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – A lawsuit planned by the family of the late Penn State coach Joe Paterno, former players and others connected to the school seeks to overturn the NCAA's swift and strict sanctions against the football program for the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
The 40-page suit to be filed Thursday will name as defendants the NCAA and its president, Mark Emmert, and Oregon State President Edward Ray, who was chair of the NCAA's executive committee, according to a statement released by attorney Wick Sollers and other family representatives late Wednesday night.
The planned litigation also seeks to shine a light on the withering report prepared by former FBI director Louis Freeh, whom the university tapped to lead an investigation into the scandal, and calls into question how and why the NCAA used the report as a basis for its sanctions in July, according to Sollers.
College sports' governing body acted with uncharacteristic speed in levying landmark penalties that included a four-year bowl ban and steep scholarship cuts less than two weeks after Freeh released his findings.
The NCAA, Emmert and Ray "acted in clear and direct violation of the organization's own rules based on a flawed report" by Freeh, the statement said. The report pointed blame in part on Paterno and three former school officials.
"This case is further proof that the NCAA has lost all sense of its mission. If there was ever a situation that demanded meticulous review and a careful adherence to NCAA rules and guidelines, this was it," Sollers said. "Instead, the NCAA placed a premium on speed over accuracy and precipitous action over due process."
Paterno's son, Jay Paterno, and Bill Kenney are two former Paterno assistants taking part in the action against the NCAA, the statement said. Also joining in the suit are five trustees, four faculty members and nine ex-Penn State players, including Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson, according to the statement.
Sollers said the suit was to be filed in state court in Centre County, home of Penn State's flagship campus. The family planned to post the complaint on www.paterno.com after it was filed.
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 Bob Costas in an interview that aired on the NBC Sports Network's "Costas Tonight" early Thursday morning.
"There was no board approval, there was no transparency, and there was no consideration of this consent decree."
Dick Thornburgh, a former U.S. attorney general and Pennsylvania governor, also was 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."
The family's lawsuit would be the latest filing in a tangled web of litigation related to the sanctions. Most prominently, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett has filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA, which also has faced criticism for a botched investigation of Miami and departures in the enforcement division.
The penalties against Penn State included 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.
The lawsuit lodges six counts against the NCAA, Emmert and Ray, including breach of contract, civil conspiracy, defamation and commercial disparagement, according to Sollers' statement.
Sollers, in an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press, said the suit would ask for the sanctions and agreement between school and the NCAA to be deemed unlawful and the penalties overturned.
The lawsuit also would 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 told the AP. "This narrative that's in public that was perpetuated by the NCAA's adoption of the deeply flawed Freeh report ... cannot stand."
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 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," the statement from La Torre said.
Sollers said Freeh is not named as a defendant in the case, but is listed as a "co-conspirator" in the lawsuit, and that there were close communications between the NCAA and Freeh's team throughout the investigation.
The Associated Press left a message seeking comment Wednesday for a spokesman for Freeh.
Costas said Freeh and Emmert declined to appear on his show.