By Michael Sadowski
HARRISBURG, Penn. (Reuters) - The family of the late Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, along with a group of faculty and former college athletes, sued the National Collegiate Athletic Association on Thursday over its response to the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal.
The lawsuit claims the NCAA, which oversees U.S. college sports, was wrong to base sanctions against Pennsylvania State University and its football program on what it called "flawed findings" in an independent investigation by former FBI Director Louis Freeh into how Penn State handled the Sandusky case.
Sandusky is in prison following his conviction for sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period. Some of the abuse took place in a Penn State locker room.
The NCAA imposed penalties in July 2012 that included a $60 million fine and a four-year loss of post-season eligibility, based on the Freeh report.
The Freeh report found Paterno and other university officials covered up Sandusky's sexual abuse for years and showed a "callous disregard" for the victims in an effort to protect Penn State's multimillion-dollar football program.
"The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized," Freeh said when the report was released last July.
Sandusky's arrest in November 2011 came nearly 14 years after Penn State officials first became aware of allegations he was a sexual predator, Freeh said.
The lawsuit claims the Freeh report was "unsubstantiated" and contained "unreliable conclusions."
Paterno, who was one of college football's most revered coaches, was fired by Penn State's board days after Sandusky was arrested. Paterno died of lung cancer in January 2012.
The lawsuit was filed by the Paterno family along with some school faculty members, trustees, former football players and coaches. It seeks an injunction against the NCAA for enforcing the sanctions and, ultimately, their removal. It also seeks compensatory and punitive damages.
The Paterno family has criticized the Freeh report since its release, saying it unjustly defamed Paterno's legacy.
Sue Paterno, the coach's widow, has said her husband never hindered investigators looking into Sandusky's behavior.
Former Penn State football players Michael Robinson, Patrick Mauti and Justin Kurpeikis are among those filing the lawsuit. They played for Penn State between 1998 and 2011 - 14 victorious seasons vacated by the NCAA as part of its sanctions.
The lawsuit also claims the NCAA threatened Penn State with the complete elimination of its football program for a season to get school officials to accept the sanctions.
(Editing by Louise Ireland, Alex Dobuzinskis, Ellen Wulfhorst and Andre Grenon)