Penn State Fumbles Suit Over Sandusky Sanctions

     (CN) – Pennsylvania cannot pursue antitrust claims against the National Collegiate Athletic Association over its handling of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, a federal judge ruled.
     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.
     As the scandal unraveled, claims arose that Penn State officials had ignored reports of Sandusky’s predations upon children over the years.
     The NCAA then imposed a $60 million sanction upon Penn State and barred its football team from postseason play for four years. It also reduced football scholarships from 85 to 65 a year and vacated all the football teams’ victories from 1998 to 2011, among other things.
     Pennsylvania Gov. Thomas Corbett, a Republican elected in 2010, filed a federal complaint against the NCAA in January, claiming it had “exploited” the Sandusky child abuse scandal to impose “crippling” sanctions on Penn State, in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act.
     The 43-page complaint, filed on behalf of the citizens of Pennsylvania, asks that the NCAA sanctions be declared illegal, and for an injunction and costs.
     Chief U.S. District Judge Yvette Kane dismissed the suit Thursday in an opinion rife with football references.
     She noted that the association’s dismissal motion was “an all-out blitz” on the complaint, and that each argument “is strong enough to render the governor’s action under antitrust law a Hail Mary pass.”
     “Although plaintiff alleges that the NCAA sought to improve its own reputation for being soft on discipline by harshly sanctioning Penn State, and that unidentified members of the executive committee and Division I board of directors wished to cripple Penn State as an athletic competitor and harm the citizens of the commonwealth, the court finds that these allegations, without any indication that defendant sought a commercial advantage for itself or sought to regulate commercial activity, are not enough to render defendant’s complained-of conduct commercial,” Kane wrote.
     The claim that Emmert “took the matter” to the committee and board of directors, who then “seized the opportunity” to impose sanctions, does not constitute concerted action, the 27-page opinion states.
     “Plaintiff’s argument that Penn State’s payment of the $60 million dollar fine, in combination with its diminished football revenue, will likely result in such a significant reduction in the quality of Penn State’s programs that competition will be eased in the nationwide market for post-secondary education, is simply not plausible,” Kane wrote. “Furthermore, plaintiff’s allegation that the sanctions will result in Penn State raising tuition and reducing its investment in programs and facilities, thereby removing incentive for its competitor schools in the nationwide market to keep tuition low and improve their own facilities, fails for the same reason.”
     Reduced scholarships at Penn State will not cause a market-wide anticompetitive effect either, according to the ruling.
     “The governor’s complaint implicates the extraordinary power of a non-governmental entity to dictate the course of an iconic public institution, and raises serious questions about the indirect economic impact of NCAA sanctions on innocent parties,” Kane wrote. “These are important questions deserving of public debate, but they are not antitrust questions. In another forum the complaint’s appeal to equity and common sense may win the day, but in the antitrust world these arguments fail to advance the ball.”
     Last month, the family of the late head coach, Joe Paterno, also sued the NCAA; its president, Dr. Mark Emmert; and its former executive chairman, Edward Ray, for defamation related to the sanctions.

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