UNIVERSITY PARK — The NCAA attacked the image and diminished the on-field capabilities of a football program occupying a major part of their lives.
On Wednesday, they watched an influential figure fight back.
The group of former Penn State players who attended Gov. Tom Corbett’s announcement of an antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA welcomed the legal maneuvering.
“It’s incredible,” said Tim Freeman, a letterwinner from 1987-89 who works in the financial industry. “If you were going to sit down and say, ‘Who really has the best standing in a fight, who has the wherewithal to go against the NCAA,' you probably couldn’t get a better advocate than the Governor of your state. For that reason, I’m incredibly happy.”
To the former players’ delight, Corbett tossed some haymakers toward NCAA president Mark Emmert and his organization during the news conference at the Nittany Lion Inn.
“The NCAA took action and piled on,” Corbett said.
The sanctions levied by the NCAA against Penn State included a $60 million fine, four-year postseason ban, the elimination of 112 wins from 1998 to 2011, massive scholarship reductions and a waiver giving players until the start of 2013 preseason drills to transfer without having to sit out a season. The sanctions were announced on July 23, 2012, but Corbett said he waited until Wednesday to announce the lawsuit to prevent the legal matter from distracting the late-season momentum generated by the Nittany Lions.
Penn State won eight out of its final 10 games to finish the season 8-4, a record that might have landed the program in a New Year’s Day bowl game. The Nittany Lions went 6-2 in Big Ten play despite losing 12 scholarship players in the two months following Emmert’s announcement. Players have until August to transfer without penalty.
“Like children looting a newly broken pinata, competing colleges and universities promptly snapped up the newly available players, strengthening their own football programs at the expense of the one the NCAA had conspire to decimate,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit claimed the sanctions will severely hinder the program’s ability to compete in upcoming seasons. The state is the first group to legally challenge the sanctions. Penn State is not involved in the lawsuit.
University President Rodney Erickson signed a consent decree, preventing Penn State from appealing sanctions. But some former players were hopeful a legal challenge to the NCAA’s decision would emerge.
“I never thought the matter was over,” said Tim Sweeney, the former president of the Penn State Football Letterman’s Club. “With something of this scope, it takes a while to get your ducks in a row.”
Sweeney said he attended the news conference “to show my support to Governor Corbett and his staff in their lawsuit against the NCAA.” Justin Kurpeikis, who replaced Sweeney as the letterman‘s club president on Tuesday, also stood behind the podium as Corbett addressed reporters.
“My only comment is that I‘m here to support the action that he’s taking,” Kurpeikis said.
Kurpeikis, a former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman, played on teams from 1998 to 2000 that had a total of 24 victories vacated by the NCAA. Multiple sources told the Centre Daily Times said a group of players who represented the program from 1998 to 2011 are considering a lawsuit against the NCAA. Sweeney and Freeman said they wouldn’t be surprised if additional lawsuits are filed.
“This was an incredibly complex, extraordinary situation,” Freeman said. “I’m sure there are going to be many fights and many legal procedures that are going to be a fallout from this.”
Freeman, whose wife is an attorney, said it will take time to sort through the lawsuits.
“The world is caught up with technology and the speed with which we can operate,” Freeman said. “The reality of the matter is that there are legal processes that have to take place that take time and we as a country have to understand that people have to be afforded those legal processes. The bloggers of the world aren’t the judge, jury and executioners in matters. The courts are.”