March 18 2013 12:00 AM

Paterno in clear legally but perhaps not ethically, local sports law expert says

    Former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno fulfilled his
    legal obligation in the university’s sex abuse sca
    phillips.jpgndal, a local professor of
    sports law and torts said today. 

    “He has a lawyer and I think it’s possible that they will be
    looking for some legal violations,” Cooley Law School professor Ernie Phillips.
    “But I don’t see that he would have any legal responsibility. I think he is
    playing it safe.”

    To make a case against Paterno, Phillips said, the
    plaintiffs have to show that he breached a legal duty owed to the victims of
    the alleged abuse.

    However, Phillips believes Paterno could have followed the
    situation more closely. The coach should have kept an eye on Jerry Sandusky,
    the former defense coordinator who has been charged in the case and monitored
    whether university sanctions were imposed, he said.

    “I think it was just odd that he would not have more
    knowledge about the severity and frequency with which [Sandusky] was involved,”
    said Phillips, adding that was an ethical matter, not a legal

    Legal responsibility in the case should instead go to
    Sandusky and the university officials who allegedly covered up the case, he
    said. This applies to both criminal and civil liability.

    Phillips categorized the case as an “institutional
    conspiracy” meant to protect the football program.

    Phillips said that grand jury reports say communications
    about the incident spread through the university, although it’s not clear what
    was initially reported and what made it to President Graham Spanier, whom the
    Board of Trustees fired Tuesday along with Paterno.

    “It does seem
    to be that Division 1 football is getting to be such an incredibly expensive
    enterprise [and] that people will do a lot to see that this enterprise
    continues on to generate the revenue that it requires,” Philips said.

    According to Forbes magazine sports columnist Kristi Dosh,
    Penn State’s football program brought in over $70 million during the 2009-2010

    Phillips said it’s likely that university officials knew
    more details about what was happening and covered it up to protect the school
    and the football program. The grand jury reports also revealed the frequency of
    Sandusky’s alleged encounters with the children. He did, however, have a cover
    through his Second Mile football camp, which may be why the alleged abuse went
    on for so long, Phillips said.