NCAA appeal a losing battle? Experts: PSU has little recourse, risks reviving negative message


By Anne Danahy adanahy@centredaily.com — State College – Centre Daily Times

 When it comes to the NCAA, due process and other standards of a court of law don’t apply.

That’s according to one expert in NCAA regulations and enforcement. David Ridpath, associate professor of sports management at Ohio University, said Penn State doesn’t have to be a member of the NCAA if it doesn’t like the sanctions the organization imposed on the university for its role in the Jerry Sandusky scandal. But, in this case, Penn State President Rodney Erickson already signed off on the penalties.

Ridpath said the 1988 case of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, basketball coach versus the NCAA gave the NCAA a huge amount of latitude. That case, involving a basketball coach who fought his suspension, made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled the NCAA isn’t a state agency.

“That court case gave them license to say, ‘If you want to be in our club, you have to follow our club rules,’ ” Ridpath said.

Ridpath, who had his own run-in with the NCAA as an athletic administrator at Marshall University, said he doesn’t like the way the NCAA handled the Penn State situation, but he thinks those fighting it need to take their complaints to the university.

“Their beef is with Penn State,” he said. “Penn State didn’t need to accept those sanctions.”

Several entities — at least one trustee, the family of Joe Paterno and a group of former players — have filed notices of appeal with the NCAA for the sanctions it imposed on Penn State for its role in the Sandusky scandal.

Although on Friday, that trustee said in an email to the board that he was refraining from further legal action while the matter is under consideration.

They argue, in part, that the NCAA was wrong relying on the findings of the Louis Freeh report. Penn State commissioned the former FBI director to complete that report on the university’s response to the former football coach who has been convicted of sexually abusing boys on campus.

Gene Grabowski, senior vice president at Levick Strategic Communications, said if Penn State wants to get past the crisis it will have to find a way to get those appealing the decisions to stop. Otherwise, Grabowski said, from a communications perspective, the continuing story will be disastrous for the university.

“It keeps everyone thinking and talking about the past and old wounds, rather than moving forward,” he said.

He compared it to Republicans wanting to talk about Watergate. He said while there may be more nuances and precise facts than have come out, the big truth is wrongdoing took place.

“The university needs to make a public call for moving forward, taking the penalties and asking everyone to come together,” Grabowski said.

That may be what happens at 5 p.m. today, when trustees vote via teleconference on supporting accepting the NCAA sanctions.

Gary Roberts, dean and professor at the Indiana University Robert McKinney School of Law, Indianapolis, said he thinks the only entity that would have a legal standing to challenge the decision with the NCAA or in court would be the university itself.

“Having said that, who is the university? That gets kind of tricky,” Roberts said.

He said that would depend on factors such as the university’s governing documents, structure and tradition. In any case, a challenge would have to come from a majority of the board — not just a single member.

“Certainly I think a strong argument could be made that the NCAA did not have the legal authority to do to one of its members what it did because its own rules don’t provide for it,” Roberts said.

Roberts, a sports law expert, said he thinks the NCAA knew the legal risks, but was hoping Penn State wouldn’t challenge them. The association assumed and appears to have been proven correct that the president and most trustees wouldn’t want to put the university through a lengthy legal battle.

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