HARRISBURG -- A Commonwealth Court panel on Wednesday questioned the validity of the NCAA consent decree entered into by Penn State University in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal.
In a 6-1 decision, with President Judge Dan Pellegrini dissenting, the judicial panel upheld a state law designed to keep the proceeds of the $60 million NCAA fine of Penn State within Pennsylvania. But the court went further, saying that filings by the NCAA had presented factual questions about the association's authority to impose a series of sanctions and the validity of the document through which it did so.
"The Consent Decree expressly recognizes 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," wrote Judge Anne E. Covey for the majority.
She quotes from the consent decree that "[t]he sexual abuse of children on a university campus by a former university official ... while despicable, ordinarily would not be actionable by the NCAA."
But this had not been raised as an issue in the case, the Wednesday opinion stated, until the NCAA in its filings presented issues related to its authority to impose a fine and the validity of the consent decree. The court said it would not make a legal determination without a hearing on "the disputed factual issues," and it ordered Penn State made a party to the case.
A spokesman for Penn State said the university would not comment on the litigation.
Through the consent decree -- which Penn State President Rodney Erickson signed in July 2012, one month after Sandusky was found guilty -- the NCAA imposed a $60 million fine, a four-year ban on postseason play, and the voiding of Penn State football wins since 1998, among other sanctions.
State legislators objected to the NCAA's plan to distribute nationwide the proceeds of the fine, which was to be placed into an endowment to fund programs for victims of child sexual abuse. State Sen. Jake Corman, R-Centre, filed suit to stop the distribution of the money, and introduced a bill restricting the fine's proceeds to Pennsylvania programs, which sailed through the General Assembly and was signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett.
Mr. Corman said Wednesday that the decision had opened a new area in the case.
"I think the next discussion will be ... is the whole consent decree legal to begin with," he said. "And so we're talking with our attorneys and we may amend our complaint to take up that fight as well."
Matthew Haverstick, an attorney for Mr. Corman, said they are pleased with the decision and are evaluating their options.
"One obvious option is to engage in discovery and request documents and information from the NCAA," Mr. Haverstick said.
Donald Remy, the NCAA's chief legal officer, said the NCAA believes the court's ruling is "entirely without basis" and that the law aiming to keep the fine money in Pennsylvania "clearly violates the state Constitution."
Karen Langley: firstname.lastname@example.org, 1-717-787-2141 or on Twitter @karen_langley.