Published January 13, 2015
The family of the late Joe Paterno has filed a lawsuit against the NCAA seeking to overturn the unlawful sanctions levied against Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case.
Joining the Paterno family in the lawsuit, filed Thursday in Pennsylvania, are several members of the Penn State Board of Trustees, faculty, former players and coaches.
The 40-page lawsuit asserts that the NCAA, its president Mark Emmert, and former chairman of the executive committee Edward Ray acted in clear and direct violation of the organization's own rules based on a flawed report by former FBI director Louis Freeh. The report on which the NCAA relied for its actions is fundamentally wrong, incomplete and inaccurate, according to the lawsuit.
In February, the Paterno family released its own findings in a review of Freeh's investigation and called it "A Rush to Injustice."
"This case is further proof that the NCAA has lost all sense of its mission," said attorney Wick Sollers in a statement. "If there was ever a situation that demanded meticulous review and a careful adherence to NCAA rules and guidelines, this was it. Instead, the NCAA placed a premium on speed over accuracy and precipitous action over due process."
Sandusky was found guilty last June on 45 counts charging him with sexual abuse of 10 boys over a 15-year period. He was sentenced to 30-60 years in prison last October.
The scandal, which broke in November 2011 with Sandusky's arrest, brought down the Penn State football program, tarnished the legacy of Paterno and scarred the entire university.
After the Freeh Report was released last July, the NCAA followed with severe sanctions against the university's football program. The penalties included a four-year postseason ban, five years of probation and vacation of all wins dating to 1998.
The NCAA did not follow its usual lengthy investigative process, using the Freeh Report as its basis to issue sanctions.
"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," Sollers added. "This matter will never be resolved until the full facts are reviewed in a lawful and transparent manner."
Paterno was fired a few weeks after Sandusky's arrest amid accusations he didn't do enough to stop the abuse. The college football legend died in January 2012 of lung cancer and never really had a chance to tell his side of the story.
In the Freeh Report, Paterno was among many Penn State officials accused of concealing "critical facts relating to Sandusky's child abuse from the authorities, the board of trustees, Penn State community, and the public at large."
The lawsuit brought by more than a dozen distinguished members of the Penn State community asserts the NCAA and the other defendants engaged in "unlawful conduct" by breaching their contractual obligations and violating their duties of good faith and fair dealing.
"The one thing everyone should agree on is that the Sandusky scandal deserves a thorough, fair and careful review," said Sollers. "The victims of Sandusky, the community of State College, the Second Mile and everyone associated with Penn State deserve to know the full truth of what happened. The NCAA's actions sought to limit the knowledge of the case and trample the rights of the individuals and institutions that were unfairly and inaccurately blamed by the Freeh report."
The lawsuit lodges six counts against the NCAA, Emmert and Ray, including breach of contract, civil conspiracy, defamation and commercial disparagement. In addition to overturning the sanctions, the lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages from the NCAA for its improper conduct and breach of contract, as well as reimbursement for legal costs. With respect to the Paterno estate, it will donate the net proceeds of any monetary recovery from this lawsuit to charity.