The politically charged decision by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett to mount a late, rearguard legal attack over collegiate sports’ harsh punishment of Pennsylvania State University seems unlikely to help the university — or the state as a whole — move beyond the school’s scandalous sheltering of convicted sexual predator Jerry Sandusky.
The antitrust suit Corbett filed Wednesday — which challenges the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s $60 million university fine, four-year postseason football ban, cuts to athletic scholarships, and other penalties — sends the wrong message. It leaves the impression, however unfairly, that Nittany Nation still doesn’t get it.
The governor is right to hail university officials’ apparent resolve to “assure that tragedies like this never happen again.” Sandusky, effectively, was jailed for life for sexually assaulting 10 boys. But Corbett’s unilateral intervention threatens to undercut Penn State’s efforts to make amends.
Penn State officials, fortunately, say they’re not a party to the lawsuit, nor will they alter plans to comply with the NCAA penalties. That’s the far better course.
Moreover, the full dimensions of the scandal aren’t even clear at this point. Former Penn State President Graham Spanier, Athletic Director Tim Curley, and Vice President Gary Schultz have yet to face trial for child endangerment and other criminal counts in the alleged cover-up.
With this apparent end run around other investigations, Corbett may win fans among Penn State supporters and others critical of the NCAA sanctions, including those who have made legitimate pleas that more of the $60 million in fines be spent to fight child abuse in Pennsylvania, not nationally.
But even if the NCAA’s treatment of Penn State were different than in other cases — where sanctions resulted from violating specific athletic or academic rules — Corbett’s lawsuit flies in the face of the fact that university officials, including the governor in his capacity as a Penn State trustee, agreed to take the NCAA’s harsh medicine.
Now, months later, does he expect everyone to forget that?