This editorial appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The politically charged decision by Gov. Tom Corbett to mount a late legal attack over college sports’ harsh punishment of Penn State University seems unlikely to help the university — or the state — move beyond the school’s scandalous sheltering of a convicted sexual predator.
The antitrust suit filed by Corbett — which challenges the NCAA’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.” Jerry 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, are not a party to the lawsuit, nor will they alter plans to comply with the NCAA penalties. That’s the far better course.
Meanwhile, Corbett’s fighting to scuttle the sanctions cannot be read outside the confines of Happy Valley as anything other than whining. Along with the scathing criticism of Penn State officials’ actions in a report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, the NCAA sanctions offer the best hope that Penn State and other universities will grasp the high price to be paid for putting an institution’s reputation above a child’s safety.
Moreover, the full dimensions of the scandal aren’t 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.
In filing his lawsuit before Attorney General-elect Kathleen Kane takes office this month, Corbett also opens himself up to accusations that he’s trying to divert attention from his own role in an earlier state investigation of Sandusky, when Corbett served as Pennsylvania’s top prosecutor.
Kane ran on a pledge to investigate why it took prosecutors nearly three years to expose Sandusky. That inquiry deserves a full airing, inasmuch as the Sandusky indictment and the subsequent firing of his mentor — football coaching icon Joe Paterno — came only after Corbett was elected governor.
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 wrongheaded 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 Gov. Corbett expect everyone to forget that?