Penn State trustee intends to appeal to NCAA sanctions
A Penn State trustee cited a need for due process in telling the NCAA on Monday that he intends to appeal college sports governing body's strict sanctions on the university for the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
Trustee Ryan McCombie said earlier Monday in a letter to fellow board members that he planned to take the action and sought an NCAA hearing. He invited other trustees to join in the appeal.
McCombie's lawyers later sent the NCAA their intent to appeal letter, saying they also represented other trustees.
Several other board members have indicated they will join the appeal, said McCombie's lawyer, Paul Kelly of the Boston-based firm Jackson Lewis. But Kelly did not provide a number or identify the other members, and said he was still gathering names.
The landmark penalties handed down last month included a four-bowl ban, scholarship cuts and 111 vacated wins from 1998-2011, meaning Joe Paterno no longer has the most coaching victories in major college football.
Sandusky is awaiting sentencing in jail after being convicted in June on 45 criminal counts.
McCombie's attorneys in the letter said his "heart breaks for the victims of this terrible saga," and that he and other trustees committed to taking decisive measure to show respect for victims and insuring such episodes don't happen again.
"That said, these objectives should not be achieved by ignoring or trampling upon the fundamental rights of others," the letter to the NCAA said. "The desire for speed and decisiveness cannot justify violating the due process rights of other involved individuals or the University as a whole. That is what has occurred here."
The NCAA last week said the penalties weren't subject to appeal after Paterno's family said they also planned to file one.
A Penn State spokesman declined comment Monday on McCombie's letter, as did a spokesman for the Paterno family. The Hall of Fame coach died in January at age 85.
Former FBI director Louis Freeh, who led the school's internal investigation in the scandal, said July 12 that Paterno and three school officials concealed allegations against Sandusky — conclusions firmly denied by the Paterno family and the officials. School trustees then said they accepted responsibility for failures of accountability in the scandal.
Acting with rare speed, college sports' governing body announced sanctions July 23 after Penn State handed over results of Freeh's investigation. The school accepted the sanctions and signed off on a consent decree, with President Rodney Erickson saying later he didn't see a better option since the threat of the "death penalty," or the total shutdown of the football program, loomed over the school.
Trustees ousted Paterno in November, days after Sandusky was arrested, but McCombie wasn't on the board then. McCombie, one of three new trustees elected this spring by alumni, was supported in his campaign by an alumni watchdog group that had been critical of the board's actions.
The letter to the NCAA was sent within a 14-day window to file notice of an intent to appeal.
McCombie wrote in the letter Monday to fellow trustees that he respected and appreciated Freeh's work, but that the report did not equate to legal hearing or review.
That letter was obtained by The Associated Press. McCombie verified the correspondence but otherwise declined comment.
His attorneys in writing the NCAA challenged a finding that trustees did not perform oversight duties.
They also said:
- Erickson lacked the authority to agree to the sanctions and waive any appeal since the full board wasn't informed of the matter or didn't sign off on the sanctions.
- That the NCAA didn't follow its own procedures by conducting its own investigation "that was never intended as a foundational platform for punitive action by the NCAA."
- The NCAA penalties were unfair since the Freeh's report reached conclusions "based on assumptions, conjecture and misplaced characterizations that are contrary to available facts and evidence."
- That the sanctions were "excessive and unreasonable," and it hurt athletes and coaches who weren't involved in wrongdoing at a school that had never before had major NCAA violations.
The latest letter to the NCAA was released the same day that the football team began preseason practice under new coach Bill O'Brien.