NCAA: Paternos trying to ‘rewrite history,' consent decree is a 'resounding success'

mcarroll@centredaily.comMay 6, 2014 

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Paterno family attorney Wick Sollers, left, talks with Scott Paterno as they enter the courthouse. Lawyers for the NCAA, Paterno family and Paterno supporters were in Bellefonte, Pa., at the Centre County Courthouse, Tuesday, October 29, 2013, for a court hearing. The lawsuit brought by the Paterno family aims to wipe out the NCAA sanctions against Penn State University. Centre Daily Times/Nabil K. Mark

NABIL K. MARK — CDT photo Buy Photo

The Paterno family and its supporters are asking to “rewrite history” in their bid to have sanctions levied against Penn State overturned and the consent decree that authorized them voided, the NCAA argued in a court filing Tuesday.

The legal memo, filed in Centre County Court, is in response to arguments the Paterno family made last month in its ongoing lawsuit against the NCAA.

Paterno family attorneys have argued the NCAA bypassed its own rules when it penalized Penn State for the Jerry Sandusky scandal. They have also criticized the Freeh report, the university’s internal investigation, which implicated top university officials with covering up child sexual abuse allegations.

NCAA attorneys Tuesday called the consent decree that authorized the sanctions a “resounding success,” and said nothing has come out publicly to shake confidence in the Freeh report “other than the purposed findings of paid consultants working at the direction of the Paterno estate.”

The NCAA’s vote of confidence for the consent decrees comes after the state Commonwealth Court last month questioned the validity of the agreement.

A ruling filed in a separate lawsuit brought by state Sen. Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, raised questions about the validity of the consent decree, with one judge writing he was “bewildered” that the Penn State board of trustees would enter into the agreement because the matter “ordinarily would not be actionable by the NCAA.”

NCAA lawyers argued in the Paterno filing Tuesday that the organization’s constitution and bylaws “give the executive committee broad authority to respond to ‘core issues and other association-wide matters.’ ”

Attorneys also disputed Paterno family assertions that Penn State was coerced into entering the consent agreement.

“Needless to say, Penn State is a top-notch research university led and advised by extraordinarily knowledgeable people who are not easily intimidated, who agree to bargains if, and only if, that bargain is in the university’s long-term best interests,” the NCAA attorneys wrote.

The lawyers called the consent decree a “unique solution,” but one both parties “legitimately and reasonably believed was supported by the facts, was true to the letter and the spirit of the NCAA (b)ylaws, and placed Penn State and its football program on a path to restore their integrity.”

They said the Paterno family case “ignores reality.”

The Paterno family contends “that the NCAA extorted an unwilling Penn State into the consent decree or, as they now suggest, perhaps the NCAA and Penn State for some reason conspired together to defame the memory of a beloved coach ...,” NCAA attorneys wrote.

Paterno family attorneys wrote in a filing last month the NCAA is “pointing a gun directly in Penn State’s direction” by threatening to impose further sanctions if the university doesn’t cooperate.

The family has included Penn State as a nominal defendant in the suit, but has left the door open to amending the suit to seek relief from the university.

In the filing, attorneys said the Paternos “continue to believe that Penn State is a victim” of the NCAA and that the university’s objections to the lawsuit “reflect the continued pressure by NCAA officials.”

Earlier this year, a judge allowed portions of the Paterno family lawsuit to advance to the discovery phase, but dismissed other claims and said they could be refiled.

Senior Judge John Leete gave the green light to claims of defamation, civil conspiracy and commercial disparagement. Leete sustained the NCAA objections that Penn State must be added as a defendant and that more details were needed to show the consent decree hurt two former coaches — Jay Paterno and Bill Kenney — in finding work.

The Paterno family filed a modified lawsuit after that, leading to the latest series of back-and-forth motions between the sides.

The Paternos and their supporters include trustees, former coaches and former players.

The sanctions include a $60 million fine, toward which Penn State has paid $24 million. The university also saw a postseason ban and scholarship reductions, though the NCAA decided to incrementally reinstate the scholarships that were cut.

Matt Carroll can be reached at 231-4631. Follow him on Twitter @Carrollreporter.

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