By Michael Sadowski

HARRISBURG, Penn. (Reuters) - The family of late Penn State football coach Joe Paterno would be among a group of plaintiffs filing a lawsuit against the U.S. college sports association on Thursday over its reaction to the Jerry Sandusky scandal, the Paterno's lawyer said.

Speaking on "Costas Tonight" on NBC Sports Network, Wick Sollers said the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) used "coercion and behind-the-scenes threats" to force Penn to pay severe penalties for its handling of the sex abuse scandal.

The NCAA threatened the school with the so-called "Death Penalty", the complete elimination of the football program for one season, to force school officials into accepting the penalties, Sollers said on the sports channel on Wednesday.

The penalties imposed in July 2012 included a $60 million fine and a four-year loss of post-season eligibility, based on an independent investigation by former FBI Director Louis Freeh into how Penn handled reports of abuse by Sandusky, an assistant football coach.

Freeh found Paterno, who died in January 2012, along with other university officials, covered up Sandusky's sexual abuse for years and showed a callous disregard for the victims to protect a multimillion-dollar football program.

Sue Paterno, the coach's widow, has said her husband had never hindered investigators looking into Sandusky's behavior.

Sandusky is in prison serving a sentence of 30 years to 60 years for the sexual abuse of 10 boys in a 15-year period. Some of the abuse occurred in the Penn State locker room.

Until Sandusky's arrest in 2011, Paterno was one of the most revered figures in American sports due in large part to his ranking as the winningest coach in major college football.

The suit is expected to be filed in Centre County, Pennsylvania. Former Penn State football stars Michael Robinson, Patrick Mauti and Justin Kurpeikis are expected to be among the plaintiffs, Paterno family representatives said in a statement late on Wednesday.

Donald Remy, the NCAA's chief legal officer, declined to comment on the pending lawsuit.

Penn State officials said the school is not directly involved in any lawsuit against the NCAA that the Paterno family may join.

(Editing by Louise Ireland and Alex Dobuzinskis)