STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (USA TODAY) -- Gov. Tom Corbett said he is suing the NCAA on behalf of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania over sanctions given to Penn State's football program in the wake of a child sexual abuse scandal.
Corbett, the former state attorney general, made the announcement Wednesday at a press conference at the Nittany Lion Inn on Penn State's campus. The anti-trust lawsuit is being filed in U.S. District Court in Harrisburg, the state capital.
He called the sanctions unlawful and overreaching and said they were an "attack" on students and the economy of the Commonwealth.
"I have heard from many across Pennsylvania about sanctions and people are upset," Corbett said to about 50 news media representatives. "People around the commonwealth have been harmed. Why punish citizens of Pennsylvania who had nothing to do with this?"
In July, the NCAA issued unprecedented penalties, including a four-year postseason ban, a $60 million fine, 40 scholarship reductions and the requirement that the university to vacate all wins from 1998 to 2011. Rather than conducting an investigation, the NCAA relied on the report penned by former FBI director Louis Freeh, who concluded that senior Penn State leaders did not handle allegations against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky appropriately and could have stopped Sandusky from sexually abusing young boys.
The move has been criticized because NCAA President Mark Emmert bypassed typical investigative protocols to punish the university. Emmert has since defended issuing the sanctions, reiterating that there was a loss of institutional control at Penn State and the NCAA needed to act. The school agreed to the sanctions after talking with NCAA in the summer.
On its wedsite Wednesday, the NCAA released a statement criticizing the suit, attributed to Donald M. Remy, NCAA Executive Vice President and General Counsel:
"We are disappointed by the Governor's action today. 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. Today's announcement by the Governor is a setback to the University's efforts."
Sandusky, 68, was convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse in June. He was sentenced to 30 to 60 years behind bars. Sandusky has maintained his innocence and has begun the process of appealing his case.
Corbett said he took the last few months to take his time researching. He did not want to file during the football season to take away the team's momentum. The Nittany Lions finished a surprisingly good 8-4.
Corbett says Penn State does have a moral responsibility to the victims but also said, the NCAA has no authority to sanction the team. He says it is a criminal matter that should be handled in court.
His position Wednesday is in stark contrast to a statement he released July 23rd after the NCAA sanctions were announced. He talked about moving forward and said, "Part of that corrective process is to accept the serious penalties imposed today by the NCAA on Penn State University and its football program."
A key point in the Pennsylvania lawsuit, which was crafted without the involvement of Penn State, is expected to be how the $60 million fine is spent. The state would like it sent back to Pennsylvania. The NCAA has previously said that a quarter of it would be funnelled back to the state.
State and congressional lawmakers from Pennsylvania have objected to using the Penn State fine to finance activities in other states. Penn State has already made the first $12 million payment. An NCAA task force is deciding how it should be spent.
The Sandusky scandal resulted in the firing last November of iconic Penn State coach Joe Paterno. He died from cancer two months later. On Wednesday morning after the suit was announced, the Paterno family released a statement:
"As we have not yet had an opportunity to review the lawsuit filed by Governor Corbett today, we cannot comment on the specifics of the litigation. What we do know, however, is that this matter is far from closed. The fact that Governor Corbett now realizes, as do many others, that there was an inexcusable rush to judgment is encouraging.
"Joe Paterno's only guidance to us was to seek the truth. Consequently, last July when the Freeh report was released and the subsequent unprecedented and unjustified actions were taken by the Penn State University Board and the NCAA, we stated that we would engage a team of experts to conduct a careful and thoughtful review of the Freeh inquiry and the actions of the Board and the Administration. That process is nearing completion. We expect to release the analysis of the experts in the near future. At that time we will address all of the issues of the past year in a comprehensive manner."
Corbett was joined at the press conference by members of his staff, including Commonwealth general counsel Jim Schultz, and current and former Penn State athletes, Schultz said he plans to meet with incoming state attorney general Kathleen Kane later Wednesday.
Also in attendance was State Senator Jake Corman (R-Centre), who said attendance was down for football and that he expected attendance will continue to fall because of the sanctions. He said that will impact businesses.
After the press conference, many Penn State students took to Twitter in support for the governor. To those students, Corbett's lawsuit is the first move taken that defends the students, players and community who were punished by the actions of others.
The university released a statement affirming it was not party to the lawsuit, adding:
"The University is committed to full compliance with the Consent Decree, the Athletics Integrity Agreement and, as appropriate, the implementation of the Freeh report recommendations. We look forward to continuing to work with Sen. George Mitchell as the athletic integrity monitor for complete fulfillment of the Athletics Integrity Agreement."