Does the Paterno lawsuit have legs? A Q&A with NCAA guru John Infante

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Unless you bypassed both our front page and rumor mill, you know that the Paterno family, as part of a group of plaintiffsannounced its lawsuit against the NCAA last night seeking 1) to overturn the sanctions levied against the Penn State program and 2) compensatory and punitive damages.

“Costas Tonight” spent time last night examining the multiple angles of the fallout of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, including the lawsuit — which you can see HERE — that directly attacks the NCAA’s use of the Freeh Report in its decision to hand Penn State its consent decree.

But does the Paterno family’s suit have a chance to succeed? What will the NCAA’s response be? How will it be impacted by the similar antitrust suit filed by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, if at all? To answer these questions, we rang NCAA guru and author at athleticscholarships.net, John Infante. Below is our Q&A.

What are you initial thoughts on the statement released by the Paterno family Wednesday night?
John Infante: It looks to be a similar version of the lawsuit that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is filing. While the Paternos are seeking a different recovery than the commonwealth, which appears to be focused on the $60 million fine, the theories in both cases are similar in that there’s some combination of antitrust and [the NCAA] “not following your own rules.” They’re throwing some additional things in there because this is specifically involving Joe Paterno and a defamation claim, but it tracks similarly to the Corbett lawsuit.

In that vein, does the Corbett lawsuit have any influence on the direction of the Paterno family lawsuit?
JI: Certainly, they’re intertwined in that they’re both talking about the same theories, same legal questions. Obviously, if Corbett were to win or lose decisively one way or the other, it would have a big impact on the chances of success of the claims the Paternos are making. And since [the Paternos are] talking about reducing the sanctions — and that’s also a big focus of Corbett’s lawsuit — if the NCAA lost and the sanctions are reduced in that case, or if the NCAA came to some sort of settlement with Pennsylvania, then you remove some of the things the Paternos are asking for in their own lawsuit.

So they are tied together, but there’s enough difference that you wouldn’t combine these two cases into one big case and you wouldn’t necessarily say if Corbett wins or loses then the entire Paterno case is essentially decided for them.

Do you think a settlement is likely?
JI: I would be shocked if a settlement happens at all in either case. People have talked about sanctions potentially being reduced and a couple of people are predicting that as public opinion has shifted, as you’ve had a number of court cases coming, that the pressure will be on the NCAA. The NCAA, with the athletics monitor and the athletics integrity agreement, has an out to reduce the sanctions and that had nothing to do with the lawsuits. So the NCAA could come in and say “Penn State has done such a good job with the athletics integrity agreement that we’re going to reduce the sanctions,” but I think they would do that and then continue to vigorously defend against the lawsuits because they get to the core of the legal underpinnings of the NCAA and how they’re able to do what they do. The NCAA is a private association and all they have to do is follow their own rules, and in cases like this they have an antitrust exemption.

As much as the NCAA would maybe like to get out of the case with a settlement, I don’t think they want to open a precedent of every time they sanction a school, the state government can come in and try to bully them. So I think the NCAA is going to see this process to the end, even if through some other justification they gave the plaintiffs — in one or both cases — what they want.

Speaking of setting a precedence, that was the theme when NCAA President Mark Emmert handed  the consent decree to Penn State last year. It would appear that the crux of the Paterno family lawsuit is that Emmert and the NCAA forced Penn State’s hand. Is that accurate?
JI: Yes, but the basic thing is that the plaintiffs are saying the NCAA didn’t follow their own rules; the NCAA is arguing that they did, except what they’re relying on is a broad, catch-all rule. This is not like the NCAA defending a specific bylaw. This isn’t the Ed O’Bannon case where the NCAA is defending certain elements of amateurism. It’s defending what is the equivalent to the “best interest of baseball clubs” that MLB has. It’s the catch-all rule that the executive committee and board of directors can do what is necessary in the best interest of college sports.

When you get into those broad and expansive clauses that’s where there’s a lot of interpretation. There’s the chance for the plaintiffs — in both cases, in fact — to argue that rule doesn’t mean anything, that you can’t say you’re following a rule, or say you have a rule that claims an organization can do whatever it wants, whenever it wants. That’s going to be the main point of the legal arguments for both Corbett and the Paternos, and it’s also going to be the piece the NCAA is trying to defend because it does give the Association a lot of cover and leeway to take action like they did against Penn State.

Does the fact that Penn State President Rodney Erickson signed the consent decree without consulting the university’s Board of Trustees play a role in the outcome of the Paterno suit?
JI: I don’t think so. The fact that he signed off on the consent decree and the board eventually agreed to it* hurts the two cases. Anything that makes this look less like the NCAA is doing whatever it wants and more like the NCAA and Penn State coming to a plea bargain or settlement is harmful to the cases. It’s one thing to argue that the NCAA went outside of their power to punish one of its members, it’s an entirely different thing to say one of the NCAA’s members and representatives of the rest of the membership agreed to these sanctions. The NCAA would say that if you don’t sign this [consent decree], you’ll face the death penalty and a Committee on Infractions hearing as soon as we can put one together, or as soon as we go do our own investigation. In a way, to the NCAA, that’s negotiating. That’s the stickler of when it came time to hash out this settlement.

The fact that there haven’t been more specific attacks against Erickson is a tactical mistake by Corbett and the Paternos. One of the best arguments is to say that Erickson didn’t have the authority to agree to the consent decree, and this is something that needed to go through the full board of trustees, and there wasn’t enough discussion, and they had never granted him this authority. The fact that there has been no legal attack on that is a mistake. The longer that it’s allowed to go on, the longer that Penn State continues to agree to go along with the consent decree and the integrity agreement, to comply with the sanctions, the harder it’s going to be to argue that you haven’t ratified Erickson’s decision. That would have been the first place to attack, but it appears [the plaintiffs] have let that opportunity go by. Now, it’s going to be hard to come back at this point and make that an essential part of the lawsuit, especially against the NCAA.

In your professional opinion, do you think the NCAA handled the Penn State situation correctly?
JI: If you look broadly at what their options were, they were left to a bunch of bad options. If they had done nothing, they would have been criticized. If we were waiting now, a year on from when they imposed the sanctions, for a criminal trial of the [PSU] administrators to finish for the NCAA to do an investigation, and sanctions are another one, two, three years out even from today — I think that’s a bad look for the NCAA as well.

To say there’s a right answer defies belief, but given what the NCAA chose to do, you can look at ways that process could have been better. If this had been a more open process, and I understand it was a tough time, but if the full board was involved, if there were public discussions about this and it looked more like a settlement than the NCAA coming in with and saying here’s take it or leave it offer, maybe the NCAA would have looked better. It probably wouldn’t have resulted in any less gnashing of the teeth at Penn State, but the process probably would have been over quicker because it would have been during this period of negotiation and settlement. Then, everybody could have had their say, and even if they don’t get their way, they tend to go along with it.

The place for constructive criticism is, having made the decision, how’d you go about bringing it around? I think you can find some areas where the NCAA could have done something different that would have resulted in less backlash even now a year after the penalties were imposed.

(*Clarification: Penn State Board of Trustees board chairwoman Karen Peetz said last year in an email obtained by the AP that it was time to move on from the sanctions handed down onto the program; Outside the Lines reported the board was prepared to ratify the consent decree. However, this did not happen.) 

Arkansas early enrollee arrested on DUI charges

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Arkansas early enrollee Mike Woods was arrested Friday night on suspicion of DUI, minor in possession of alcohol and, crucially, improper turn/U-turn. The Washington County booking report says he was released on Saturday afternoon but due back for a hearing on Monday morning.

Hogs head coach Chad Morris released the following statement: “We are aware of the incident involving Mike Woods and are gathering information from the proper authorities. We will make a determination regarding his status once we have reviewed all of the information.”

A consensus 3-star recruit out of Magnolia, Texas, in the Houston area, Woods originally committed to SMU but followed Morris and wide receivers coach Justin Stepp to Arkansas.

Bill Snyder honored by Missouri Western with pavilion at football stadium

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Bill Snyder traveled to his hometown of St. Joseph, Mo., on Thursday, as Missouri Western State University christened a pavilion at its football stadium as the Bill Snyder Pavilion.

The pavilion was donated by Steven L. Craig, who already serves as the namesake for Division II Missouri Western’s football stadium and its business school. But for the new pavilion of Craig Field that holds two levels of hospitality space, Craig and the school elected to honor one of St. Joseph’s most famous residents and a former Missouri Western student. With the honor, Snyder became the rare (only?) person to have his name on two separate football stadiums; Kansas State plays in Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

After graduating high school from St. Joseph’s Lafayette High School, Snyder originally enrolled at Mizzou, where he discovered the major university life was not for him. “I did extremely poorly,” Snyder told the Kansas City Star. “I was out of my element. My mother had saved all of her life to send me to college, and I was wasting her money.”

He returned home to enroll at Missouri Western, then known as Missouri Western Junior College, where he played on the basketball team. He then transferred to William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo., where he played quarterback and defensive back before graduating in 1962. Outside a brief stint as a graduate assistant on John McKay‘s USC staff, Snyder spent the first decade of his coaching career at the high school ranks in Missouri and California. He landed a job in 1974 as the offensive coordinator at Austin College in Sherman, Texas, and two seasons there led to a job on Hayden Fry‘s staff at North Texas in 1976. Snyder followed Fry to Iowa, and nine successful seasons as the Hawkeyes’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach granted him the Kansas State head job, where he has authored the greatest turnaround in major college football history.

Snyder, who will turn 79 the day after Kansas State visits Baylor on Oct. 6, is 210-110-1 as K-State’s head coach. He led the Wildcats to four straight 11-win seasons from 1997-00, a Big 12 championship in 2003 and, after a 3-year retirement, returned to lead the Wildcats to their first No. 1 ranking and a second Big 12 championship in 2012. Despite spending much of the off-season battling throat cancer, Snyder led Kansas State to an 8-5 record with a Cactus Bowl win over UCLA in 2017.

“St. Joseph will always have a special place in my heart,” Snyder said Thursday. “Missouri Western likewise.”

Snyder will open his 27th season as K-State’s head coach on Sept. 1 as the Wildcats host South Dakota.

 

Former Miami, Purdue QB Robert Marve arrested on domestic battery charges

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Former Miami and Purdue quarterback Robert Marve turned himself in to Hillsborough County, Fla., authorities on Friday morning after his girlfriend accused him of domestic violence in their Key West hotel room. He was booked on felony battery/domestic battery by strangulation charges and released an hour later on $50,000 bond.

According to the Tampa Bay Times:

(Marve’s girlfriend Channing) Tomes told the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office that Marve “lost control” after seeing messages on her phone. He then began hitting her face, chest, arms and legs, and stomped on her throat, according to the warrant.

“I am beyond relieved to know he is finally exposed as the monster he truly is,” Tomes said in a text message to the Tampa Bay Times. “I am so thankful for everyone who has worked tirelessly on this case, as well as other victims.”

Tomes also accused Marve of biting her on the lip, striking her face, knocking her unconscious and sexually assaulting her back in May.

“I do not care if I am the face of this case or if my sexual life, job or school is exposed in this process. My ultimate goal was to see that he never hurt another woman again and stand up for past victims who were too scared to come forward. Rape and domestic violence is never okay,” Tomes told the Times. “I have found that the only ‘safe word’ with Robert Marve is ‘911.’ ”

Marve led powerhouse Plant High School in Tampa to a Class 4A state championship in 2006 and signed with Miami in February 2007 as Rivals‘s No. 8 pro-style quarterback of that year. He later transferred to Purdue and needed six years to complete his college career, a season that was ended prematurely after a second ACL tear. He had a cup of coffee with his hometown Bucs and a brief career with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the CFL before retiring in 2015.

Marve currently lives in Tampa and works as the athletic director at the Tampa Sports Academy training facility, according to jail records, in addition to coaching Plant’s quarterbacks.

Michigan State to reportedly remove interim tag from AD Bill Beekman on Monday

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Michigan State is set to name interim AD Bill Beekman to the job on a permanent status on Monday, according to reports from the Detroit Free Press and ESPN.

The move brings a bit of stability to the university as the Larry Nassar saga continues to embroil the highest level of MSU leadership in controversy. Though its highest-profile employees, football coach Mark Dantonio and men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo, remain in their posts, AD Mark Hollis retired in late January as ESPN dug into the athletics department’s (lack of) response to sexual harassment within its ranks. MSU president Lou Anna Simon resigned two days before Hollis, but that may be the least of her problems stemming from the Nassar saga.

As for Beekman, he is a near-MSU lifer who has experience across university leadership but, prior to his appointment as interim AD five months ago, none in athletics. He was hired as an administrator with the MSU HealthTeam, per the Free Press, and has since risen to assistant dean of finance and planning for MSU’s school of medicine, executive director of the MSU alumni association, vice president and secretary of the MSU Board of Trustees, and he was even briefly named MSU’s interim president after Simon’s resignation.

He was appointed to the full-time AD position by interim president John Engler. Michigan State’s board are currently in search of a full-time president, but that person will not be in place until the end of the upcoming academic year.

Given all that ongoing upheaval, it will be interesting to see the contract Michigan State’s interim president hands to its now full-time AD with no prior athletics experience.