Corbett’s Penn State Folly: Suing NCAA Can’t Save Him
July of 2012 was notable for several reasons: the hottest month on record, both parties gearing up for the presidential campaign, and the voluntary acceptance of harsh NCAA sanctions by the Penn State Board of Trustees, which includes Governor Tom Corbett.
A half year later, all has evolved predictably: it’s cold, the President won, and Corbett has flip-flopped in an ill-fated attempt to bolster his image in the PSU/Jerry Sandusky scandal. The Tom and Jerry Show—a tragic comedy—just keeps getting better.
It was only last July when Corbett stated, “part of the corrective process is to accept the serious penalties imposed by the NCAA on Penn State University and its football program.” Now he’s suing the NCAA for “overreaching and unlawful sanctions.”
The $64,000 question is “Why?” Why the 180-degree change, and why now, instead of when the sanctions were announced? For those answers, let’s play Corbett’s version of Let’s Make A Deal.
Door #1: “I wanted to thoroughly research the issue to make sure we were on solid legal footing.” Uh, sorry, but no prize. The NCAA bylaws aren’t all that complicated, so Corbett (himself a former U.S. Attorney and twice the state’s Attorney General) and his team could have easily determined—way ahead of time—if A) the NCAA could legally impose sanctions; B) if so, what sanctions should be off the table; and C) if the Administration had legal footing to sue the NCAA should it impose them anyway.
Door #2: He waited so that the football team could avoid another distraction. Wrong again! Football season doesn’t start in July, and the football team was already dealing with Sandusky fallout. Ironically, a Corbett lawsuit in July would have had the opposite effect: becoming a rallying cry for the team that someone was standing up for them.
Door #3: “I didn’t want to make the same mistake the NCAA made by carelessly rushing in.” Well, that one fits, since Corbett, as the Attorney General investigating Sandusky, made absolutely no rush to get a serial predator off the street.
Door #4: “After months of research and deliberation, as well as discussions with alumni, students, faculty, business owners and elected officials, (Corbett) concluded that the NCAA’s sanctions were overreaching and unlawful.” So is the suit because the NCAA is violating its bylaws, or because souvenir shops aren’t selling as many Nittany Lion magnets?
Taxpayers should understand that the substantial cost of this lawsuit will be footed by them, since neither Administration lawyers nor the Attorney General will handle it. Instead, that prize goes to top-of-the-line law firm Cozen O’Connor. Cozen (and its attorneys and family members) contributed almost $100,000 to the Governor’s campaigns, and is the former firm of Corbett’s new General Counsel.
Now let’s get serious and look at the real reasons behind Corbett’s newfound love of Penn State. Has Corbett finally realized he is about to become the first governor to lose a second term? He is already one of the nation’s least popular governors, and, with the exception of demagoguing on Penn State (when convenient), is spotted in public less than Bigfoot. Now, he is at the point in politics where they separate the men from the boys, and he is frantically reaching for something with wide appeal.
But suing the NCAA won’t help Corbett, even if his lawsuit is successful, as Pennsylvanians see right through his ploy. Many view him as part of the process that went overboard in destroying Penn State’s reputation and giving Joe Paterno a premature death. And even more think he deliberately understaffed the Sandusky investigation—leaving children to potentially suffer at Sandusky’s hands—so that he wouldn’t alienate Penn State alumni while running for governor.
And maybe Corbett is trying to distract incoming Attorney General Kathleen Kane, the first Democrat ever to hold that office, who not coincidentally wasn’t consulted about the Governor’s lawsuit. Kane, it is worth noting, just won more votes than anyone in Pennsylvania history (including the President), a feat directly attributable to one issue: cleaning up Harrisburg, starting with an investigation into how Corbett handled the Sandusky investigation.
But we do have the lawsuit, and with it, two more major Corbett inconsistencies: 1) “conservatives” like the governor always rail against activist judges—until, like now, they need one; and 2) Corbett stated that, if successful, he will urge the Board to use the $60 million to help groups working against abuse. While a nice thought, is that not completely undermining his argument that the fines are creating an unacceptable burden on so many in the PSU community? Is there anyone in the Governor’s office who has really thought this lawsuit through?
Truth is, this woefully miscalculated effort will accomplish only one thing: a major backfire.
A courageous Board of Trustees would have fought the NCAA, but they, including Corbett, chose not to pursue action. One can debate the prudence of the Board’s decision, but Penn State’s message is clear: It wants to put the Sandusky matter behind it as quickly as possible, which is why it is not party to the lawsuit.
But the Tom and Jerry Show is far from over. The Governor is on a collision course with voters (especially his own Republicans) who demand answers about Sandusky—answers that Corbett refuses to give. These are questions that go to the very core of Tom Corbett’s true character. And they are questions that may well lead him to the dustbin of political history or, depending on what Kane finds, worse.
How will this show end? Attorney General-elect Kane, the floor is yours.