State Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman on Friday announced the end of litigation against the NCAA in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
“The NCAA has surrendered,” Corman said during a news conference in Harrisburg announcing that the consent decree — the acceptance by Penn State of unprecedented sanctions handed down by the NCAA in July 2012 — has been repealed.
The settlement, which was unanimously approved by the university’s board of trustees shortly after Corman’s announcement, voids all sanctions, including the vacating of 112 football victories, 111 of which were under the late coach Joe Paterno. The NCAA’s executive committee will vote on it Saturday.
This action restores Paterno’s career wins to 409, giving him back the record as the winningest coach in college football history.
“Today is a victory for due process, which was not afforded in this case,” Corman said.
The Endowment Act, legislation Corman introduced, required “any institution of higher learning” in the state that was required by a governing body to pay a monetary penalty of $10 million over the course of multiple years to pay the money into a state-administered trust fund.
But the NCAA fought its enforcement, and Corman and state Treasurer Rob McCord filed suit against the sports organization in January 2013.
On Tuesday, the NCAA lost in its last attempt to have the Endowment Act declared unconstitutional when Judge Yvette Kane, of U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, denied a request for an injunction barring its enforcement.
In her ruling, Kane upheld Commonwealth Court Judge Anne Covey’s repeated affirmations of the constitutionality of the Endowment Act.
The NCAA said in a statement Friday that according to the settlement, the university will acknowledge the NCAA’s “legitimate and good faith interest and concern regarding the Jerry Sandusky matter.”
Penn State also will “commit a total of $60 million to activities and programs for the prevention of child sexual abuse and the treatment of victims of child sexual abuse”; and “Penn State and the NCAA will enter into a new Athletics Integrity Agreement that (with concurrence of the Big Ten) includes best practices with which the university is committed to comply and that provides for the university to continue to retain the services of Sen. George Mitchell and his firm to support the university’s activities under the Athletics Integrity Agreement and in the areas of compliance, ethics and integrity.”
In his opening remarks, Corman thanked McCord for joining the suit, “stepping in when no one else would.”
And he reacted to the criticism that’s been hurled at Penn State since the Freeh report was issued and the sanctions imposed in July 2012.
“For three years, my community has been rocked by a rush to judgment that many were eager to capitalize upon,” he said. “Their actions sought to punish the university and our community, with no thought to the consequences of their lack of leadership. Due process and facts matter. Today’s actions cannot give back the damage done recklessly by the consent decree, but it does end it, repeals it, and puts due process back in its proper perspective and focus.”
Voting on the settlement agreement was the first order of business at Friday’s board meeting, and the trustees voted unanimously to accept it.
A group that has been split vocally along the lines of those who supported the consent decree and the Freeh report and those who questioned them came together to vote for the resolution to start fresh.
Trustee Anthony Lubrano has been a loud voice on the issue, pushing to have the university switch sides in the lawsuit, joining Corman and McCord as a plaintiff rather than a defendant.
“Obviously, a lot happened in the past 24 hours,” he said. The settlement is something he said has been under construction for weeks, with Penn State President Eric Barron being actively involved in the process.
“This was a big win for Penn State ... a real beat-down for the NCAA,” Lubrano said.
It was not, however, everything he wanted. Ideally, Lubrano would like to have had the consent decree voided outright, with no concessions and no further AIA. He acknowledged that the settlement did give something to everyone, and although the restoration of victories is important for many, “this was never about football,” he said.
In a statement from the NCAA, Kirk Schulz, Kansas State president and chairman of the NCAA board of governors, said, “Today’s agreement with Penn State reaffirms our authority to act. The NCAA has a legitimate role when a member’s actions threaten the integrity of college sports. We acted in good faith in addressing the failures and subsequent improvements on Penn State’s campus. We must acknowledge the continued progress of the university while also maintaining our commitment to supporting the survivors of child sexual abuse.”
Schulz’s statement, however, contradicts Lubrano’s interpretation.
Lubrano voted for the settlement specifically because it did not state that the NCAA had the authority to act, only that the organization had a reason for concern.
The statement also said that the NCAA “will aggressively defend the Paterno estate’s challenge to the validity of the now-replaced consent decree.”
Corman’s announcement was met with some skepticism in President’s Hall at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel, where a large crowd was gathered for the trustees’ meeting. People watched on laptops, tablets and phones, and were not happy with what they heard.
“It sounds beautiful, but this is about due process and getting to the truth,” Denise McClelland said.
Danita Griegel, of Pottsville, wants to know what the ultimate decisions will be about the points still to be negotiated between Penn State and the NCAA.
“Until we see what those are, we have no way of knowing anything,” she said.
“Why? Why did they settle?” another woman asked.
Corman’s office has faced a large number of phone calls from constituents and alumni voicing their opinions in recent days. Earlier this week, press secretary Jennifer Kocher said there were more than 50 calls, mostly opposed to settlement.
Barry Fenchak, an alumnus and a Penn State professor, is someone who didn’t want to see a settlement, but he wasn’t surprised, saying he has seen the move coming since April when Covey pushed the suit forward.
“I think they wanted to short-circuit the Commonwealth Court’s attempt” to look at the broader issues of the case, like the consent decree itself, rather than the narrower scope of the suit.
“One of the most bewildering aspects is if all of the consent decree is voided, why is Penn State still squandering $60 million?”
So what is still unresolved among the rest of the Sandusky-related lawsuits and other fallout?
The Paterno estate still has its case against the NCAA and Penn State pending in Centre County Court, and Jay Paterno and Bill Kenney are still pursuing a claim in federal court. The Big Ten’s penalties against the university are still out there, too.
“You’d have to ask Eric (Barron) about that,” Lubrano said.
And there is the statue of the late coach, commemorating a career that included 409 wins, all of which are on the books again.
“The statue needs to be returned to its rightful place,” Lubrano said. Corman agrees, and said so during his Harrisburg news conference.
“This was something that never should have happened in the first place,” Corman said.