Penn State Board of Trustees Member Will Appeal NCAA Sanctions

A Pennsylvania State University Board of Trustees member is to appeal sanctions imposed on the school for its handling of child sex-abuse allegations against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

Lawyer Paul Kelly of Jackson Lewis LLP sent a letter on behalf of his client, Ryan McCombie, a 26-year U.S. Navy veteran who joined the board last month, to the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Infractions Appeals Committee accusing it of handing down “excessive and unreasonable” penalties last month. Three other trustees back the appeal, ESPN reported.

The letter said the NCAA violated its own procedures by relying on the results of a Penn State investigation that the letter contends is flawed. It also said university President Rodney Erickson acted outside his authority when he accepted the sanctions.

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

The NCAA on July 23 imposed a $60 million fine, the loss of 20 football scholarships annually for four years and a postseason ban of the same length on the State College, Pennsylvania-based school.

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

‘Permanent Damage’

In his letter, Kelly said the sanctions “inflict permanent damage to an entire generation of student-athletes and coaches who were innocent of any wrongdoing during their time on campus while placing a unwarranted blemish on an institution that, by the NCAA’s own acknowledgment, ’has never before had NCAA major violations.’”

Erickson acted outside of the charter and bylaws of the university when he accepted the sanctions on the day they were announced without consulting the board, the “final repository of all legal responsibility and authority governing the affairs of the university,” according to the letter.

University spokesman David La Torre declined in an e-mail to comment on the appeal or the claim that Erickson acted outside his authority.

Kelly’s letter questions the NCAA’s use of a report compiled by former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Louis Freeh.

Failure to Protect

Freeh’s 267-page report, released two weeks before the NCAA revealed its sanctions, concluded that university officials, including Paterno, failed to protect children from sexual abuse by Sandusky by not reporting him to the police and by continuing to grant him access to the on-campus football building where some of the abuse took place. The report concluded that the board failed in its oversight duties, which Kelly denied in his letter.

“The report failed to consider evidence or afford certain individuals an opportunity to be heard, failed to acknowledge the absence of important and material evidence in reaching its findings, and reached conclusions based on assumption, conjecture and misplaced characterization that are contrary to the available facts and evidence,” the letter said.

The NCAA violated due process with its use of Freeh’s report, instead of an investigation by the NCAA’s enforcement staff or outside counsel familiar with its investigative standards, the letter said.

NCAA President Mark 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.

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

Paterno Appeal

The appeal comes three days after a lawyer for the Paterno family informed the NCAA that they were requesting both the opportunity to appeal the sanctions in writing and an in-person hearing with the governing body.

Paterno family lawyer Wick Sollers said in a letter to Emmert that the NCAA acted “hastily and without any regard for due process” when it issued the sanctions.

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.

At the time of his ouster, he had 409 wins, more than any other coach at college football’s top level. Following the sanctions, Florida State University coach Bobby Bowden became the career leader in college football’s top division with 377 victories.

NCAA spokesman Williams also said in an e-mail following Sollers’ letter that the sanctions were not subject to appeal.

Sandusky, 68, an assistant coach at Penn State 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.

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

Bloomberg reserves the right to edit or remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.