By Ed Payne
(CNN) — Joe Paterno led the Penn State Nittany Lions for 46 seasons and — in the process — became the winningest coach in college football history.
Then came the child molestation scandal involving his former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky and allegations that Paterno played a role in concealing it.
The NCAA vacated 111 of his wins over a 14-year period, fined the school $60 million, reduced scholarships and banned it from bowl games for four years.
Paterno died last year, his iconic reputation in tatters.
But his relatives filed a lawsuit Thursday to see that his legacy doesn’t end that way.
The lawsuit — filed by the Paterno family, several members of the Penn State Board of Trustees, faculty, former players and coaches — takes to task the NCAA and a report by former FBI director Louis Freeh, whom the sports body hired to conduct an independent investigation of Penn State’s handling of the scandal.
“The report on which the NCAA relied for its actions is fundamentally wrong, incomplete and inaccurate,” a release from the parties filing the lawsuit said. “The consent decree with Penn State was hastily imposed on the University, completely disregarding the rights of the affected parties.”
The 40-page suit, filed in Common Pleas Court of Centre County, Pennsylvania, Thursday, is the second filed against the college sports governing body.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett filed an anti-trust lawsuit in January against the NCAA on the grounds that its punishments for the university are “overreaching and unlawful.”
Paterno coached at Penn State for 62 years as an assistant and head coach, but was fired after authorities arrested Sandusky.
In 2002, a graduate assistant brought to Paterno allegations of Sandusky’s sexual abuse in one of Penn State’s facilities. Paterno informed his supervisors of the report, but the school’s board of trustees fired Paterno in November 2011, saying he could no longer perform his duties in the shadow of scandal.
Sandusky was convicted in June 2012 on 45 counts of child sex abuse. He was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison.
Top figures at Penn State blamed
Freeh’s 267-page review blamed Paterno, former university President Graham Spanier, suspended Athletic Director Tim Curley and ex-Vice President Gary Schultz for allegedly taking part in a cover-up to avoid bad publicity.
The scandal led to Spanier’s ouster and shocked the nation after Freeh’s team concluded that the school’s top administrators had “empowered” Sandusky, the former defensive coordinator for the football team, to continue his abuse.
In addition to overturning the sanctions, the lawsuit seeks money for damages and legal costs. The Paterno estate says it will donate any money it receives from the lawsuit to charity.
“The one thing everyone should agree on is that the Sandusky scandal deserves a thorough, fair and careful review,” said Wick Sollers, the attorney for those filing the lawsuit. “The NCAA’s actions sought to limit the knowledge of the case and trample the rights of the individuals and institutions that were unfairly and inaccurately blamed by the Freeh report.”
Sollers previously issued a critique of the Freeh report, calling it a “rush to injustice regarding Joe Paterno.”
The Paterno report
This is not the first time the Paterno family has fought back.
In February, it released a report that absolved the coaching great of blame in the Sandusky scandal and said the Freeh report, commissioned by Penn State, was “factually wrong, speculative and fundamentally flawed.”
Former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh put together the new report.
“The experts determined that the conclusions of the (university) report are based on raw speculation and unsupported opinion – not facts and evidence,” Thornburgh said, according to a statement from the family.
The statement said Paterno never attempted to hide any information or impede any investigation into Sandusky’s activities while using Penn State facilities.
Freeh said the family review was “self-serving.”
CNN’s Susan Candiotti contributed to this report.