Corbett announced Wednesday the state is suing the NCAA in federal court to have the sanctions dropped, saying they would irreparably damage the university, the state, its citizens and its economy.
"Penn State football has played a major role, not only as a focus of campus life, but as a generator of revenue for a proud university, a leading tourist attraction and a creator of jobs in the state," Corbett said. "In the wake of this terrible scandal, Penn State was left to heal and clean up this tragedy that was created by the few. The students, the alumni, the board, the administration and faculty all came together at that moment and began to rebuild."
Corbett said in a release, "the NCAA piled on, choosing to levy, in their words, 'unprecedented sanctions' against Penn State and its football program."
The NCAA imposed sanctions on Penn State in July following an investigation that found university administrators covered up child abuse allegations to protect Sandusky, who was an assistant coach to Penn State head Coach Joe Paterno, who died Jan. 22, 2012. The sanctions included a $60 million fine, a reduction in scholarships and a four-year ban on post-season football appearances.
"While what occurred at Penn State was both criminal and heinous," Corbett said, "the conduct for which Penn State was sanctioned consisted of alleged failures to report criminal activity on campus that did not impact fairness or integrity on the playing field."
The governor is asking the federal court to toss out all of the NCAA's sanctions, including the fine, and to declare the consent agreement with university officials illegal.
After months of research, deliberations and discussions, Corbett said he has concluded the NCAA sanctions were "overreaching and unlawful," and the only reason the organization imposed the sanctions was because it "benefited from the penalties and because the leadership of the NCAA believed they could. And that's wrong."
The lawsuit accuses the NCAA of forcing Penn State President Rodney Erickson into compliance with its sanctions by threatening to impose even harsher penalties on the football program.
The sanctions don't punish Sandusky "for his despicable and criminal action" from 1994 and 2009 and they don't punish others who were criminally charged, the governor said.
"These sanctions are an attack on past, present and future students of Penn State, the citizens of our commonwealth and our economy," Corbett said. "As governor of this commonwealth, I cannot and will not stand by and let it happen without a fight."
Even though no NCAA rule violations were identified and the actions were being addressed in criminal court, NCAA President Mark Emmert still went ahead with the unprecedented and aggressive disciplinary measure, Corbett said.
Corbett said NCAA officials informed Penn State what the punishments would be, threatening that if the university did not waive its right to due process and accept the sanctions as proffered, the NCAA would impose the "death penalty" of forbidding the football team from all competition for four years.
"The NCAA and its president, Mark Emmert, seized upon the opportunity for publicity for their own benefit to make a showing of aggressive discipline on the backs of the citizens of our commonwealth and Penn State University," Corbett said, "and this is why I have chosen to fight this in the courts."
In June, a jury convicted Sandusky on 45 of 48 counts of child sex abuse. Sandusky is serving at least 30 years in prison for molesting 10 boys, whom he met through his charity, the Second Mile. Some of the assaults happened on the Penn State campus.