Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett is suing the NCAA in federal court over its sanctions against Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal, Corbett announced Wednesday.
The Republican governor said at a news conference on Penn State's campus in State College that he was filing a federal antitrust suit in the hopes of overturning what he called "arbitrary" and "harsh penalties" that he said represented an overreach of the group's power.
The sanctions, agreed to by the university in July, included a $60 million fine that would be used nationally to finance child abuse prevention grants, as well as a four-year bowl game ban for the university's marquee football program, the forfeiture of 112 wins and significant scholarship cuts.
"These punishments threaten to have a devastating, long-lasting and irreparable effect on the state, its citizens and its economy," Corbett said.
The family of former Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno, who died last year, called the filing of Corbett's suit "encouraging" and the sanctions "unprecedented and unjustified," while declining to comment on the specifics of the suit.
The NCAA said in a statement that it was "disappointed" in the filing of the suit, which it said was "without merit," a setback for Penn State and an affront to the families of Sandusky's victims.
Corbett said the suit would be filed in a Harrisburg, Pa., federal court Wednesday afternoon. His general counsel Jim Schultz said his office had waited until now to sue because it wanted a "measured calculation and deliberate decision" and it didn't want to interfere with football season.
But a Penn State alumni group called Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, which has long been critical of the NCAA sanctions, questioned the timing even as it said it was pleased by the action.
"If he disapproved of the terms of the NCAA consent decree, or if he thought there was something illegal about them, why didn't he exercise his duty to act long before now?" it wondered in a statement.
The filing of the suit comes less than two weeks before Pennsylvania's Attorney General-elect Kathleen Kane, a Democrat, is set to be sworn in, and Corbett said his office had not coordinated with hers. Instead, he was granted authority to sue by the current outgoing attorney general, Linda Kelly.
Kane, who will be sworn in Jan. 15, ran for the office on a vow to investigate why it took state prosecutors nearly three years to charge Sandusky, who had long been an assistant football coach under Paterno.
Corbett was himself attorney general when that office took over the Sandusky case in early 2009 and until he became governor in 2011. Sandusky was indicted and charged later in 2011.
State and federal lawmakers have objected to the possibility of the money from the NCAA sanctions against Penn State being spent outside Pennsylvania.
Last month, a Pennsylvania congressman said he was unhappy with how the NCAA responded to a request from the state's U.S. House delegation that the whole $60 million be distributed to causes within the state.
NCAA president Mark Emmert had said in a Dec. 12 letter that a task force had been charged with allocating at least 25 percent of the fine money to programs in Pennsylvania. But Republican Rep. Charlie Dent called Emmert's response "unacceptable and unsatisfactory."
Sandusky, a former defensive coordinator and assistant football coach for Penn State's football team, was convicted in June on charges he sexually abused 10 boys, some on campus. The 68-year-old was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in state prison.
Eight young men testified against him, describing a range of abuse they said went from grooming and manipulation to fondling, oral sex and anal rape when they were boys.
Sandusky didn't testify at his trial but has maintained his innocence, acknowledging he showered with boys but insisting he never molested them.