Corbett charged that the NCAA violated the Sherman Antitrust Act, which prohibits agreements that restrain interstate commerce. Legal experts called it an unusual case whose outcome is difficult to predict.
The NCAA has faced antitrust litigation before, with a mixed record of success. In 1984, the Supreme Court ruled against the NCAA’s exclusive control over televised college football games. And in 1998, the Supreme Court let stand a ruling that said the NCAA’s salary cap for some assistant coaches was unlawful price-fixing.
But federal courts have consistently rejected antitrust challenges to NCAA rules and enforcement actions designed to preserve competitive balance, academic integrity and amateurism in college athletics.
In this case, the courts might not be as sympathetic to the NCAA, said Matthew Mitten, director of the National Sports Law Institute at Marquette University Law School.
“It’s difficult to justify the sanctions as necessary to protect the amateur nature of college sports, preserve competitive balance or maintain academic integrity,” he said.
Joseph Bauer, an antitrust expert at the University of Notre Dame law school, said of Corbett’s line of reasoning: “I don’t think it’s an easy claim for them to make, but it’s certainly a viable claim.”
Sandusky, 68, was convicted in June of sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period, some of them on Penn State’s campus. He is a serving a 30- to 60-year prison sentence.
Michael Boni, a lawyer for one of the victims, said he does not consider the lawsuit an affront. But he said he hopes Corbett takes a leading role in pushing for changes to state child-abuse laws.
“I really question who he’s concerned about in this state,” Boni said.
Michael Desmond, a businessman who appeared with Corbett at the news conference, said business at his five State College eating establishments was down about 10 percent during Penn State home game weekends this year.
“The governor’s actions are going to be immensely popular with all Penn State alumni,” Desmond said.
Corbett, a Republican, said his office did not coordinate its legal strategy with state Attorney General-elect Kathleen Kane, who is scheduled to be sworn in Jan. 15. Instead, the current attorney general, Linda Kelly, granted the governor authority to pursue the matter.
Kane had no comment on the lawsuit because she was not consulted about it by Corbett’s office.
State and congressional lawmakers have objected to use of the NCAA fine to finance child-abuse prevention efforts in other states. Penn State has already made the first $12 million payment, and an NCAA task force is deciding how it should be spent.