Letter asks for appeal of sanctions

Updated: August 5, 2012, 11:44 AM ET
By Don Van Natta Jr. | ESPN.com

The family of Joe Paterno on Friday demanded an appeal of the NCAA's unprecedented sanctions against Penn State for its leaders' role in concealing the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal, according to a copy of the letter sent to the NCAA and obtained by "Outside the Lines."

In the letter, the Paterno family lawyers requested the NCAA hold an "open hearing" before its Infractions Appeals Committee of the package of sanctions accepted by Penn State on July 23. The historic sanctions, the most severe handed down by the NCAA, include a record $60 million fine, a four-year postseason ban, significant scholarship losses, five years' probation and the vacating of 111 wins by Paterno from 1998 through 2011.

"This matter may be the most important disciplinary action in the history of the NCAA, and it has been handled in a fundamentally inappropriate and unprecedented manner," Wick Sollers, a Paterno family lawyer, wrote in the letter sent Friday afternoon to the NCAA's Infractions Appeal Committee. "To severely punish a University and its community and to condemn a great educator, philanthropist and coach without any public review or hearing is unfair on its face and a violation of NCAA guidelines."

Sollers argues in the letter that the NCAA was wrong to suspend its usual infractions committee procedures and accept the findings of the Penn State-commissioned Freeh report. The report by former FBI director Louis B. Freeh found that Paterno, former Penn State president Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz concealed the activities of Sandusky, who was convicted by a jury on June 22 of 45 counts of child sexual abuse.

The Paterno family argues that they have standing to file an appeal because the NCAA's bylaws say an "involved individual" can file an appeal. Sollers says the Freeh Report, which the NCAA accepted for its inquiry, and the NCAA sanctions both mention Paterno by name.

The NCAA quickly rejected their plan. "The Penn State sanctions are not subject to appeal," spokesman Bob Williams said.

Despite, the appeal, the Paterno family could use the request as the basis for legal action against the NCAA. Dan McGinn, a family spokesman, declined to comment on the letter's contents and would not answer questions about whether the family is contemplating filing a lawsuit against the NCAA.

The Paterno family has requested the Infractions Appeals Committee take up the sanctions after the NCAA bypassed the Committee on Infractions when deciding the penalties. Instead, NCAA president Mark Emmert and the Division I board of directors and executive committee decided to accept the findings of the 267-page Freeh report and go straight to determining the appropriate penalty.

The Paterno family has said more than once in the past three weeks that they believe the Freeh report's findings to be deeply flawed. The Paternos are also conducting their own independent review of the Freeh report and its findings. And in Friday's letter, Sollers again criticized the Freeh report, saying it contains "extreme and unfounded opinions," and that the NCAA relied on them. Sollers also complains that the Paterno family was not given proper due process by the NCAA before the organization rendered its judgment.

"If there is culpability in this case, a hearing will help expose it," Sollers wrote. "As will become evident in a thorough and impartial review, the NCAA acted hastily and without any regard for due process. Furthermore, the NCAA and Penn State's Board Chair and President entirely ignored the fact that the Freeh Report, on which these extraordinary penalties are based, is deeply flawed because it is incomplete, rife with unsupported opinions and unquestionably one-sided.

"The NCAA and Penn State's leadership, by accepting and adopting the conclusions of the Freeh report, have maligned all of the above without soliciting contrary opinions or challenging a single finding of the Freeh report. Given the extraordinary penalty handed out, prudence and justice require that scrupulous adherence to due process be observed and not completely ignored."

Sollers argued that the requested appeal is intended "to redress the enormous damage done to Penn State, the State College community, former and current students and student-athletes, Joe Paterno and certain others involved, as a result of the unprecedented actions taken by the NCAA."

Don Van Natta Jr. | email

Senior writer, ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com

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