Corbett Universally, Deservedly Panned for Penn State Lawsuit
As has been the case through much of his governorship, Gov. Tom Corbett recently made what was probably the wrong decision. He announced—via pep rally!—that he’d be filing a federal law suit to, as the New York Times put it. “force the NCAA to revoke the highly deserved sanctions imposed on the school and its powerful football program for a scandal that reached the highest levels of the university.”
The governor was surrounded by Penn State students, athletes and alumni—all of whom, apparently, feel victimized by the sanctions after officials in their school’s administration and athletic program participated in a well-organized cover-up of a now-imprisoned pedophilic monster.
And the Times is just the pick of the litter criticizing Pennsylvania’s governor over the Wednesday announcement. The national press has quickly resumed its focus on the culture of sports corruption we all read about during the initial reporting of Sanduskygate, and now it has in Corbett a new poster child.
Back in July, NCAA president Mark Emmert imposed sanctions in the form of a $60 million fine, a ban on post-season games for four years, the loss of 10 scholarships and a deletion of all the school’s wins from 1998-2011. The Big Ten Conference — of which Penn State is a part — also announced its own sanctions at the time, including $13 million (the share of Big Ten revenue during post-season games) to be donated to organizations meant to protect children.
The sanctions paled in comparison to the punishment many imagined the school might face: shutting down the football program altogether. So the school accepted its penance.
But Gov. Corbett isn’t taking this one sitting down. On Wednesday, he noted the sanctions “threaten to have a devastating, long-lasting, and irreparable effect on the state, its citizens and its economy”—and that they did not “punish Sandusky or the others who were criminally punished.” The only ones who are feeling the brunt of the NCAA’s pain, he said, are Penn State’s “past, present, and future students.” The governor’s 43-page complaint notes further that the college sports organization did not follow its own bylaws when delivering the sanctions.
The NCAA has already called the suit “without merit.” Meanwhile, in addition to The New York Times‘ aforementioned reaction, in an editorial published Friday, the paper noted that the governor has bypassed incoming state attorney general Kathleen Kane—the first Democrat ever elected to the position in Pennsylvania, and, notably, the one who promised to look into Corbett’s own investigation into the Sandusky case (or lack thereof) while he was attorney general.
“It would be hard to imagine a more shortsighted misunderstanding of the scandal that continues to shake Penn State,” the Times writes. “The university is wise to accept the sanctions, whatever the governor hopes to accomplish. The penalties have caused considerable resentment among the more avid Penn State fans, but Mr. Corbett denied politics underlies his complaint. He pictured Penn State caught in the ‘eye of a media storm’ and left to ‘clean up this tragedy that was created by the few.’ The governor should know better than anyone that the tragedy is all about the outrageous abuse of children at Penn State, not continuing the business of football for Penn State fans.”
Over at the Daily Beast, Philly writer Buzz Bissinger called the governor “a disgrace,” saying this is Corbett’s “most shameless act yet.” And that includes the fact that the governor’s 2010 election campaign accepted close to $202,000 in campaign donations from board members of the charity started by Sandusky. “As a resident of the state of Pennsylvania, I could give a flying fuck about Penn State football,” Bissinger continues. “I have a feeling there are many millions in the state who feel the same way. The sweeping claim that the NCAA sanctions harm the citizens of the state is offensive.”
Philadelphia talk radio host Michael Smerconish, guest-hosting Hardball with Chris Matthews, suggested Corbett is likely filing the lawsuit for political reasons: “Corbett is up for reelection in 2014, and right now his poll numbers are poor. Penn State fans, they are an important part of the Pennsylvania electorate.” G. Terry Madonna and Michael L. Young (oft-voices of reason in Pennsylvania politics) wrote a column concerning the suit yesterday, in which they argue, “Corbett’s action seems to be an instance of doing the right thing for the wrong reason.” And for what it’s worth, a new PPP poll shows that Pennsylvania approve of the suit, and think the sanctions against the school were too strict — but still disapprove of Corbett.
“The lawsuit sucks and will likely get thrown out of court,” writes Robert Wheel, an oft-critic of the NCAA, in a post at SportsBlog Nation. “And if you look at the circumstantial evidence, this all seems like a political stunt and waste of taxpayer money.”
That said, if nothing else, this story getting more and more national attention with each of our governor’s self-serving missteps may warrant more critics asking why his initial investigation took so long in the first place.