Several members of the Penn State University Board of Trustees have filed an appeal with the NCAA over the sanctions handed down in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky-sex abuse scandal, and they could ultimately file a federal lawsuit.
The attorneys claim Penn State President Rodney Erickson "lacked the legal authority to agree" to the sanctions without the board's approval.
Erickson signed the consent decree late last month with the NCAA after consulting with board chairwoman Karen Peetz and university counsel, but he did not bring the decree to the full board for review or a vote.
The package of sanctions included a $60 million fine, a four-year bowl ban, scholarship losses and the vacating of wins from 1998 through 2011.
They argue the NCAA violated their "fundamental procedural due process rights" of the board and PSU by relying on the Freeh Report's findings, rather than conducting their own investigation. Kelly and Clifton also criticized the Freeh report as containing findings and conclusions "unsupported by credible evidence."
The Freeh Report, named after former FBI director Louis Freeh, revealed a high-level cover up of Sandusky's crimes against children committed on the Penn State campus.
"The sanctions imposed are excessive and unreasonable," the attorneys argue, adding that they "inflict permanent damage to an entire generation of student-athletes and coaches who were innocent of any wrongdoing during their time on campus."
(READ THE APPEAL FILED BY KELLY AND CLIFTON: PDF)
The trustees expect the NCAA to reject the appeal and will reportedly file a federal lawsuit asking a judge to invalidate the sanctions.
The trustees' actions come after it seemed there was no challenge to the NCAA's decision on July 25 when they learned a complete ban from collegiate football for four years was floated. "The Board finds the punitive sanctions difficult and the process with the NCAA unfortunate. ... The University and Board resolve to move forward together to recognize the historical excellence in Penn State’s academic and athletic programs," the board said in a statement then. "We anticipate and look forward to demonstrating our outstanding performance in complying with the sanctions."
However, no vote was taken at that July 25 meeting.
"It is my belief that this matter did require board approval and that we should engage in a full, and complete, review," McCombie wrote in a letter to his fellow trustees. "In the end, we all benefit from having this matter handled correctly and with full regard for due process -- only then can we be truly confident in the result and the actions we take as a board."
The sanctions could ultimately cost the university upwards of $500 million.
When late head football coach Joe Paterno's family said they planned to file an appeal, an NCAA spokesman said "The Penn State sanctions are not subject to appeal." The Centre Times Daily reported that statement remains true.
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