The late Pennsylvania State University football coach Joe Paterno was long aware of a sex-abuse allegation against his assistant, convicted serial child molester Jerry Sandusky, according to a court document that came to light Thursday.

"In 1976, a child allegedly reported to PSU's Head Coach Joseph Paterno that he (the child) was sexually molested by Sandusky,” reads a line in a court order in an insurance case reviewed by the Patriot-News of Harrisburg. The order also cited other allegations made in the 1980s in which assistant coaches reported witnessing Sandusky engaging in inappropriate contact with children.

The revelation underscores the debate over how much Paterno, long revered at Penn State, knew about Sandusky’s actions. The two men spent 30 years working closely together, leading many to suspect Paterno covered for Sandusky’s actions by not passing allegations up the university’s chain of command.

Penn State declined to comment on the report Thursday night, NBC News reported. "We are aware of the allegations. But the legal case and confidentiality commitments that govern our settlement agreements preclude us from discussing these matters at all. We are sensitive to the need to adhere to our commitments and to honor the privacy concerns of potential victims," the Penn State statement said.

If the information in the court order is true, then Paterno could have pursued action against Sandusky long before Sandusky's 45-count child sex-abuse conviction in 2012. Sandusky was convicted of molesting children he lured through his youth charity over 15 years ending in 2009. Paterno died in January 2012, a few months after the scandal broke, and Sandusky, 72, is now serving at least 30 years in prison.

The court order pertains to an insurance case in which Penn State hopes to recover most of the $60 million it has paid out to settle nearly 30 civil claims pertaining to Sandusky’s abuse. University officials want their insurance policy to cover all of the claims and were trying to include claims of abuses committed in the 1990s, when the policies excluded sexual abuse claims. The judge rebuffed them. 

Also on Thursday, a Pennsylvania judge gave Sandusky a hearing later this month that would allow him an opportunity to prove that prosecutors withheld evidence and leaked grand jury information in a bid to find more victims, the Associated Press reported.