HARRISBURG, Pa. (CN) - Pennsylvania Gov. Thomas Corbett sued the NCAA on Wednesday, claiming it "exploited" the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal to impose "crippling" sanctions on Penn State, in violation of antitrust law.
Corbett claims in his federal complaint that the Sandusky case was a criminal matter, which the NCAA "exploited" to "force the university to endure harsh, unjustified, and unprecedented punishments."
Sandusky, 68, a former assistant football coach at Penn state, is serving 30 to 60 years in prison for 45 counts of sexual abuse of young boys.
The scandal made national headlines and resulted in a string of lawsuits against Penn State, whose top officials were accused of ignoring reports of Sandusky's predations upon children.
After national uproar, and a report from a former FBI director, the NCAA sanctioned Penn State by fining it $60 million, barring its football team from postseason play for 4 years, reducing its football scholarships from 85 to 65 a year, vacating all the football teams' victories from 1998 to 2011, among other things.
In his complaint, Corbett, a Republican elected in 2010, points to the traditions of the "proud university," and claims the NCAA's "crippling" sanctions will harm citizens "who benefit from a successful football program at Penn State." The governor minces no words in claiming that the NCAA has its own image problems.
The 43-page complaint begins: "For more than 40 years, the football program at Pennsylvania State University ('Penn State') has been an important economic engine supporting Pennsylvanians across the Commonwealth. On fall weekends, fans and alumni have regularly traveled to State College to attend Penn State games, tailgate with family and friends, and spend the weekend visiting the Penn State campus. As a result, Penn State football has played a major role not only as a focus of campus life, but as a generator of revenue for a proud university, a leading tourist attraction, and a creator of jobs in the Commonwealth.
"This suit arises out of the NCAA and its member institutions' arbitrary and capricious application of their enforcement power for the purpose of crippling Penn State football, thereby harming citizens of the Commonwealth who benefit from a successful football program at Penn State, among them citizens who earn income by working in the stadium on game days; the shop owners whose small businesses generate significant revenue from the sale of Penn State memorabilia; the students who help pay tuition by waiting tables filled with alumni and fans who patronize restaurants and bars before and after games; the hotel owners and employees whose jobs depend on the continued influx of tourists to central Pennsylvania; and the Penn State swimmers and other athletes whose programs are largely funded by football revenue.
"The NCAA is accomplishing this goal by exploiting, to burnish its own often derided public reputation, a tragic and notorious child sexual abuse scandal that became one of the most closely followed news stories in the nation between November 2011 and July 2012. Instead of allowing the justice system to resolve this series of events, the NCAA used Penn State's tarnished public image as an opportunity to force the university to endure harsh, unjustified, and unprecedented punishments. Penn State was forced to sign away its procedural rights, including an investigation of the charges against it, factual findings that NCAA rules were violated, a hearing before the NCAA's Committee on Infractions, and an appeal of any adverse ruling. These punishments threaten to have a devastating, long-lasting, and irreparable effect on the Commonwealth, its citizens, and its economy.
"The NCAA is a trade association of competitors, formed for the purpose of promoting intercollegiate athletic competition, in part through self-regulating its members to ensure fair competition on the playing field and the protection of participating student-athletes. While the antitrust laws permit such an association to impose and enforce rules or standards to promote certain procompetitive purposes, such rules must be reasonably related to those purposes, and must be enforced through procedures designed to prevent their arbitrary application.
"The NCAA's sanctions against Penn State fail to meet these requirements. The NCAA has punished Penn State without citing a single concrete NCAA rule that Penn State has broken, for conduct that in no way compromised the NCAA's mission of fair competition, and with a complete disregard for the NCAA's own enforcement procedures. In so doing, the NCAA and its members have forced Penn State to forfeit the valuable competitive advantages of full participation in the NCAA.
"While the Commonwealth emphatically repudiates the conduct of the university officials who allegedly knew about the underlying offenses and failed to report them to law enforcement authorities, the NCAA should not be permitted to exploit the tragedy in a way that harms Pennsylvanians and decreases the revenue base that supports worthy Commonwealth programs merely to enhance the NCAA's own reputation and the competing football programs of the NCAA member colleges and universities.
"The NCAA took the public position that its unique and unprecedented actions were necessary to correct a 'culture' at Penn State that improperly exalted the football program to a position of 'deference' and 'reverence' within the university.
"While the role of football and other high-profile sports on college campuses is certainly a legitimate subject for debate, the notion that this phenomenon is in any way unique to Penn State defies credulity. Moreover, given the NCAA's pivotal role in creating and profiting from the 'culture' it now decries, its stated justification for its attack on Penn State and the Commonwealth must be viewed as a pretext for the real motives of the NCAA and its president: the opportunity to gain leverage in the court of public opinion, boost the reputation and power of the NCAA's president, enhance the competitive position of certain NCAA members, and weaken a fellow competitor."
Corbett says he sued on behalf of the citizens of his state. He claims the NCAA violated Section 16 of the Clayton Act and Section 1 of the Sherman Act.
He wants the NCAA sanctions declared illegal, an injunction and costs.
His lead counsel is James Schultz, of the governor's office of general counsel.