Paterno Family Informs NCAA It Will Appeal Penn State Sanctions

Joe Paterno’s family has informed the National Collegiate Athletic Association it intends to appeal sanctions imposed upon Pennsylvania State University for the school’s handling of child sex-abuse allegations against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

Paterno family lawyer Wick Sollers said in a letter to NCAA President Mark Emmert that the family is requesting both the opportunity to appeal the sanctions in writing and an in-person hearing with the NCAA.

Paterno died of cancer in January at age 85, less than three months after he was fired as Nittany Lions head coach, a position he held for 46 years.

NCAA spokesman Bob Williams said in an e-mail that ``Penn State’s sanctions are not subject to review.''

In the letter, dated yesterday, Sollers claims the NCAA acted “hastily and without any regard for due process” when it announced last month unprecedented sanctions against the State College, Pennsylvania-based school, including a $60 million fine, the loss of 20 football scholarships annually for four years and a postseason ban of the same length.

The national governing body for college athletics also stripped the Penn State football program of 112 victories from 1998 through 2011, taking away Paterno’s distinction as the most successful coach in the history of college football.

University spokesman David La Torre declined in an e-mail to comment on the letter or the family’s intentions.

Emmert said last month that Penn State placed football ahead of the protection of young people, and that it resulted in the most egregious breakdown of conduct he’s ever seen.

‘Grave Dangers’

“One of the grave dangers stemming from our love of sports is that the sports themselves can become too big to fail, indeed, too big to even challenge,” he said. “The result can be an erosion of academic values replaced by the values of hero worship and winning at all costs.”

The basis of the family’s appeal would stem from the NCAA’s use of an independent report compiled by former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Louis Freeh, according to Sollers’ letter. Freeh’s 267-page report, released two weeks before the NCAA announced its sanctions, concluded that university officials, including Paterno, failed to protect children from sexual abuse by Sandusky, both by failing to report him to the police and by continuing to grant him access to the on-campus football building where some of the abuse took place.

Sollers said the NCAA “entirely ignored the fact that the Freeh report, on which these extraordinary penalties are based, is deeply flawed because it is incomplete, rife with unsupported opinions and unquestionably one-sided.”

Paterno’s family and the three other officials named in the report all have denied that a cover-up took place. The school has accepted the sanctions.

Wins Stripped

At the time of his ouster, Paterno had 409 wins, more than any other coach at college football’s top level. The school was stripped of 112 wins, all but one of which came under Paterno, making long-time Florida State University coach Bobby Bowden the new career leader in college football’s top division with 377 victories.

Sandusky, 68, a Nittany Lions assistant coach for 31 years, was convicted last month on 45 criminal counts tied to the abuse of 10 boys over a 15-year period starting in 1994.

In the letter, Sollers said a formal appeal and a hearing in front of the NCAA’s Infractions Appeals Committee, Executive Committee or other audience was the only way to demonstrate respect for the victims and uncover culpability, if it exists.

“Those objectives cannot be achieved by a truncated process that wrongly assigns blame by substituting opinion for fact,” the letter said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Eben Novy-Williams in New York at enovywilliam@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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