Former players, others join Paterno family’s civil suit against NCAA

BELLEFONTE (AP) – From former players to faculty members, a mini-cross section of the Penn State community has partnered with the late head coach Joe Paterno’s family in suing the NCAA to overturn the landmark sanctions against the school for the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

While the Paternos are the headliners among the plaintiffs in the civil suit filed Thursday in Centre County court, 19 others with ties to Penn State are also seeking a jury trial to reverse what they call the NCAA’s swift and unlawful punishment of the storied football program.

Paul Kelly, an attorney representing trustees, faculty, and former players and coaches, said the action related to the impact on “the entire Penn State community.”

“I would say the overwhelming majority of the complaints and the facts really relate to … due process, and the fairness and actions of the NCAA,” Kelly said in a phone interview. “It’s much broader than (the Paterno family’s claims) and I hope people realize that.”

Therefore, Kelly said, his clients had no other choice but to turn to the courts “since the NCAA acted in an area in which it had no authority, failed to follow its own rules, forcibly imposed an onerous result on innocent parties” and refused to recognize appeal efforts.

In Irving, Texas, NCAA president Mark Emmert – named as a defendant in the lawsuit – said he had not reviewed the filing and declined comment Thursday on individual cases. He spoke to reporters after addressing Big 12 Conference presidents and athletic directors during their spring meeting.

“We have a number of lawsuits out there around a number of cases … I’m perfectly fine to have an opportunity for us to state our case and have it heard in a court of law, then we’ll let a legal system do its work,” he said. “Again, I’m always happy for the NCAA and for college athletics to make its case because I think it’s got a pretty powerful case for what it is and what it does.”

The 40-page filing culminated months of rumors about whether the Paterno family and others would enter the already complex web of litigation over the sanctions. Most notably, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett has filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA.

Penn State itself is not a party in the latest suit. The university Wednesday said it remained committed to fully complying with the sanctions levied last July, including a four-year bowl ban, steep scholarship cuts and a $60 million fine.

The Associated Press left messages Thursday for a spokesman for former FBI director Louis Freeh. His scathing report for the university on the scandal concluded that Paterno and three school officials conspired to conceal allegations Sandusky, a retired defensive coordinator.

Those conclusions have been strongly denied by Paterno’s family and the officials. The lawsuit blasts Freeh’s report as an “unreliable rush to injustice,” and that the NCAA improperly relied on the findings instead of conducting its own investigation.

Acting with uncharacteristic speed, the NCAA delivered its punishment less than two weeks after Freeh’s findings were issued.

“The road may be long and the fight will be tough, but in the end, we will do right for Penn State,” the trustees, faculty members, and ex-coaches and players in the case wrote in a letter Thursday to other former players explaining the action.

“Everyone involved deserves fairness, due process, truth and a just outcome – and this is our cause,” they wrote.

Besides the Paterno family, Paterno’s son, Jay Paterno, is listed separately as a plaintiff – as one of two former assistant coaches – along with Bill Kenney.

The other 18 plaintiffs are:

-Trustees Ryan McCombie, Anthony Lubrano, Adam Taliaferro, Peter Khoury and Al Clemens. McCombie, Lubrano and Taliaferro weren’t on the board in November 2011, when the board fired Paterno -a decision that still irks many alumni and former players. Taliaferro is also a former player who gained notoriety for his recovery from a severe spinal cord injury during a game in 2000.

McCombie, in a letter Wednesday to trustees chair Keith Masser explaining his position, said the Penn State case was an example of how the NCAA was an “out-of-control monopoly” that uses its power to threaten and bully members.

Khoury is a graduate student and a gubernatorial appointee to the board in October 2011, a month before the scandal hit. Clemens was on the board in 1998 and 2001, during which Freeh said Paterno and the school officials covered up allegations against Sandusky.