Rules of the Game: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. NCAA

By Bram Maravent
January 03, 2013 9:39 am
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Pennsylvania Gov. Tom CorbettBack on July 23, 2012, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett urged accepting the sanctions imposed by the NCAA against Penn State University, which included a $60 million fine.  Now he is leading the charge against those sanctions.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has brought a lawsuit against the NCAA for injunctive relief for violations of the Sherman Antitrust Act.  In short, the state is challenging the NCAA’s ability to levy fines against the school, because the penalty itself was arbitrary and capricious and beyond the scope of the NCAA’s powers.

At first blush, this could seem like an attempt to score some political points with constituents while at the same time reminding everyone of the horrible tragedy that took place, at least in part, on the Penn State campus.  However, the lawsuit, if it can survive a motion to dismiss on a few grounds, most notably standing on the part of the State of Pennsylvania to bring such a lawsuit, might present a blueprint to challenge the disciplinary power of the NCAA, especially in a case that involved criminal violations.

Another point raised by legal analyst Michael McCann is that the State of Pennsylvania has the financial resources to go toe-to-toe with the NCAA is a protracted legal matter, as antitrust lawsuits have a tendency of being (as do many legal actions for that matter).

Finally, and perhaps the most significant concern for the NCAA in this case is not whether it “wins” or “loses” the overall case, but what information it might have to provide to the court (and a jury) in the event the lawsuit does survive a motion to dismiss.  If the lawsuit enters the discovery phase, where the NCAA would be required to respond to various questions from the State of Pennsylvania, could be worrisome enough for the NCAA to try and avoid further legal entanglement.  The lead plaintiff in this case, Governor Corbett, could be attacked by the NCAA for his involvement in assisting in securing grant funding for the Second Mile charity, Jerry Sandusky’s charity, and for his failing to do anything while Pennsylvania’s Attorney General from 2005-2011.

As this lawsuit plays out, it will be interesting to see which arguments the NCAA posits as its basis for a forthcoming motion to dismiss, as will the legal response proffered by the State of Pennsylvania.


Rex Ryan

In other news…

The NFL and Professional Football Writers of America have an agreement providing that a team must have a season-ending news conference with a head coach, owner, or other team executive (at least those remaining after the end of the regular season) during the week following the end of the regular season. 

The NFL’s 2012 regular season ended on December 30.  The New York Jets made a decision to not make head coach Rex Ryan and team owner Woody Johnson available on January 8, 2013, clearly breaking the League’s agreement and rankling those who make a living covering the team.  As a result, the PFWA lodged a complaint with the NFL.  In turn, the NFL has assured the PFWA that the matter is being investigated.  The Jets, which only provided a written statement from Mike Tannenbaum after he was fired by the team on Monday, await word from the League if any penalty will be issued.

Jonathan Vilma says that his current defamation action against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is “draining” and hopes that it did not have a negative effect on any of his teammates.  Vilma decided to press on with his defamation action despite having a season-long suspension lifted by former commissioner Paul Tagliabue after he and three players challenged discipline imposed on them by the NFL for alleged involvement in a bounty scandal.  United States District Court Judge Helen Berrigan has not ruled yet on Goodell’s motion to dismiss Vilma’s complaint but a decision should come at some point soon.

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By Bram Maravent
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