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PA State Senator Cannot Intervene in NCAA Suit Against State

State Sen. Jake Corman, one of the most vocal opponents to the NCAA’s sanctions against Penn State in the Pennsylvania legislature, was denied the opportunity to intervene in the NCAA’s lawsuit against the state. Corman has his own lawsuit going against the NCAA in state court and wants to avoid inconsistent judgments:

Corman said in court papers that his lawsuit against the NCAA gave him an interest in the outcome of the NCAA’s lawsuit against the state. He said he wanted to avoid “inconsistent rulings” between the Commonwealth Court and Kane, as well as the litigation of similar lawsuits.

Corman said the constitutionality of the law could be litigated in front of the Commonwealth Court judges, and that the constitutionality issue did not belong before a federal judge.

One of the whole points of federal courts is to decide issues regarding the constitutionality of state laws, so it was not surprising that argument did not fly. But Corman should not worry about the judgments being inconsistent.

At some point, the two judgments will be reconciled. Both the NCAA’s lawsuit against the state of Pennsylvania and Corman’s lawsuit against the NCAA deal with the Pennsylvania Institution of Higher Education Monetary Penalty Endowment Act, which was proposed by Corman. If the state court rules the NCAA has violated the act but the federal court rules the act is unconstitutional, the Supremacy Clause would resolve the conflict. That might need to get sorted out in a higher court, but it would happen eventually.

And maybe it should. This is the NCAA’s characterization of one of the issues with the Endowment Act:

The Endowment Act is unconstitutional because it attempts to negate a legally binding agreement between private parties and divert funds to state coffers. (emphasis added)

Penn State and other public universities are not normal private parties. Even accepting that the NCAA is just a private corporation (still hotly debated even if it is settled law), that still creates an odd situation where a private corporation regulates the activities of sovereign state governments. Whether that should be allowed and what limits there should be on that power have never be adequately explored by the Supreme Court of the United States and the existing decisions (NCAA v. Miller primarily) punt the question in a way.

When trying to read the tea leaves of the NCAA’s ongoing legal battles, both in the Penn State and O’Bannon cases, never underestimate the value to both sides of seeing the case all the way through. Settlements do not entrench or destroy the NCAA’s legal protections. They simply put those questions off until another day.

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