The NCAA probably didn t see this coming.The fight against the NCAA's sanctions on Penn State got new momentum Wednesday in a sharply worded state court ruling that called for further examination of the validity of the consent decree that established them.PSU ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS
But experts believe what started out as a simple fight to keep control of its million in Penn State University fine proceeds now has quite likely turned into a battle over the very validity of the controversial
It happened courtesy of a 6-1 Commonwealth Court ruling Wednesday that not only upheld but also called for a hearing on the validity of the consent decree itself.
That was a moment worth celebrating for the legions of Penn State alums and fans who feel the school s once-unassailable Paterno Era heritage was thrown under the bus by current university leaders in the hopes of making disappear.
This is where the consent decree really starts to completely unravel Scott Paterno, son of the late head football coach Joe Paterno and a lead plaintiff in a separate lawsuit over the sanctions in Centre County court posted Wednesday afternoon on Twitter.
Several independent NCAA watchers said Scott Paterno might have a point, based on the strong language in Judge Anne Covey s majority opinion.
High school athletes who had no involvement in the criminal acts [committed by Sandusky] were prevented from obtaining a free college education, Covey wrote referring to the football program s reduction in scholarships.
Student-athletes, trainers, coaches and support personnel who were taught and trained to be and do their best were stopped from competing by the prohibition against post-season play.
Student-athletes, trainers, coaches, administrators and support personnel who had excelled in their jobs through hard work, practice, commitment, team work, sportsmanship, excellence and perseverance were told none of that mattered, the judge continued, in a reference to the paper vacation of 111 Joe Paterno-coached football wins from 1998 through 2011.
All that happened, Covey wrote, because of the NCAA's questionable involvement in and its dubious authority pertaining to a criminal action against a non-University official which involved children who were non-university student-athletes.
This Court will not make a legal determination which has such far reaching implications without conducting a hearing on the disputed factual issues, Covey concluded, referring to state Sen. Jake Corman's request for immediate enforcement of the fine law, which Corman sponsored.
For more on Covey's opinion and President Judge Dan Pelligrini's solo dissent,
Those open factual issues, of course, bol down to whether the NCAA had the right to go outside its normal enforcement procedures to hand down the Penn State punishments July 2012.
The NCAA said little aboutits nextmove Wednesday, other than it will continue to fight for what it believes is a lawfully executed agreement between it and Penn State.
NCAA Chief Legal Officer Donald Remy said the association stands by its belief that Corman's act on the fines is unconstitutional, and added "We are even more surprised the court determined the consent decree itself is somehow at issue, although the validity of the agreement has not been questioned by the plaintiff."
The association has always maintained that based largely on that top administrators at Penn State were ineffective in stopping Sandusky when they had the chance the violations were so extraordinary as to warrant executive action.
Several outside observers, however, believe the court s proposed fresh look has the potential to embarrass the NCAA and it s beleaguered president, Mark Emmert.
I think this does pose a threat to the NCAA, said Ellen Staurowsky, a professor of sports management at Drexel University. Often when we get a glimpse into the inner workings, if becomes difficult for them to defend their actions.
Gerald Gurney, a former Division I sports administrator now on the faculty at the University of Oklahoma, was even blunter.
By any measure, Penn State was at the time of the Sandusky scandal a model athletic program," Gurney said.
I think when the court looks into the validity of the consent decree, it will be bothered by the duress President Erickson and Penn State were under from the threat of a four-year death penalty
And I think it will be bothered by the complete circumvention of established NCAA enforcement rules, Gurney said.
The one wild card, of course, could be what Penn State whose top leaders did sign off on the consent decree says now that it is being brought into the case.
So far, official Penn State has stood with the NCAA in other court battles, insisting that it s main goal is to comply with all aspects of the agreement and become a better institution for it.
That approach, ironically, has earned praise to date from Emmert and
It gets a little more complex for Penn State in this case, however.
The lead plaintiff is in the Commonwealth Court case is none other than Corman,a Centre County Republican whose status as Senate Appropriations Committee Chair makes him probably the university s number one patron in the General Assembly.
Corman, for his part, seem interested Wednesday in taking advantage of his new leverage, telling PennLive that while the validity of the sanctions was not his initial interest, now that the court has opened up that potential we certainly have to explore it.
and their allies cheered that prospect.
In a statement Wednesday evening, Wick Sollers, the family's attorney, called the latest ruling a milestone development
As we have said from the beginning, the only way the NCAA's hasty and ill-conceived actions will be resolved is through a transparent review of the facts. Today's opinion is an extremely encouraging development.
At least one member of Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, the grassroots alumni group that has fought steadfastly against the Freeh Report and the sanctions, said he hoped NCAA leaders would consider surrendering now.
This decision, though not a complete victory, yet, is a clear sign to the NCAA, and the [Penn State] Board of Trustees, about the outcome of an examination of the Consent Decree, said Rob Tribeck, a Harrisburg attorney.
Tribeck renewed calls for Penn State trustees to renounce the Freeh Report, and for the NCAA to immediately lift all remaining sanctions.
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