(Reuters) - The president of Penn State said on Sunday he was appalled by the media coverage surrounding allegations the university's late head football coach Joe Paterno knew about child sex abuse by his assistant coach as far back as the mid-1970s.
New allegations about Paterno, a legendary figure at Penn State and still revered by many supporters, surfaced last week in court documents in a civil case over settlements with victims of his assistant Jerry Sandusky.
Paterno, who died in January 2012, was fired in 2011 after disclosures that he knew Sandusky sexually abused a young boy in the school's football showers in 2002 and that, while he told university officials, he failed to notify police.
The new allegations involve alleged incidents that are years older.
"I am appalled by the rumor, innuendo and rush to judgment that have accompanied the media stories surrounding these allegations," Eric Barron, president of Pennsylvania State University, said in an open letter on the school's website.
None of the fresh allegations, which threaten to reopen a scandal that rocked the school's vaunted football program and college sports in general, have been substantiated in a court of law and they are unsupported by any evidence, Barron said.
The Associated Press reported that university spokesman Lawrence Lokman confirmed on Sunday that the earliest year of alleged abuse covered in Penn State's legal settlements with Sandusky's accusers was 1971.
The fresh allegations came in a court opinion by Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Gary Glazer, who wrote that witnesses testified in depositions that Paterno was told in 1976, 1987 and 1988 about sex abuse by Sandusky.
Glazer's opinion was filed in a lawsuit involving the school's former insurer, Pennsylvania Manufacturers' Association.
Since Paterno did not report the three incidents to top university officials or police, Glazer said, the university can legally claim it was unaware of them and thus remains insured for any settlements with victims prior to 1992, when the liability policy was changed to exclude sexual abuse.
The civil case aims to determine whether the school or its insurer should pay millions of dollars in damages to Sandusky's victims.
Paterno's son, Scott Paterno, dismissed as "bunk" the allegations that his father was told about abuse decades ago.
Sandusky, 72, is serving 30 years to 60 years in prison after a jury convicted him of molesting 10 boys in incidents dating back to the 1990s.
Reporting by Fiona Ortiz in Chicago; Editing by Frank McGurty and Peter Cooney