"Doomed," "foolhardy," "disgusting" — are just a few of the words being used to describe Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett's lawsuit asking the federal court to toss out NCAA penalties handed to Penn State for its role in protecting a pedophile.
To recap, the N.C.A.A. sanctions followed an independent university-commissioned investigation led by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, whose scathing report found that the most senior leaders at Penn State, including patron saint football coach Joe Paterno, had exhibited a "total and consistent disregard ... for the safety and welfare of Sandusky's victims" and had worked together to conceal Sandusky's crimes for more than a decade for fear of bad publicity for Penn State football and out of sympathy for Sandusky.
The failure to report the former Penn State assistant football coach, who was convicted in June 2012 on 45 counts sexual abuse, allowed him to continue raping young boys over a 15 year period, the report found.
In response to this unprecedented tragedy, Mark Emmert, the N.C.A.A. president levied unprecedented penalties against Penn State and its football program. The organization's swift, just, and severe response seemed to show what healthy organizations do when encountering, well, children who are raped that no one helps for 15 years.
So why is Gov. Corbett suing in federal court in an effort to have the Sandusky-related NCAA penalties thrown out?
Here are five possibilities:
1. Corbett really believes that he is defending the honor of Penn State University
This Tea Party-esque story is wonderfully told in the 43-page lawsuit that was filed on Wednesday: "Up until the revelation of the sexual abuse scandal that rocked the campus in November 2011, Penn State football's reputation for "success with honor" made it the envy of its peers."
But on November 4, 2011, the Commonwealth filed criminal charges against Sandusky and everything changed.
In just a matter of weeks, "a university community that had rallied around its popular and respected football program for more than forty years suddenly found itself broken," the suit states.
In this weakened state,"Emmert took the matter directly to the Executive Committee and Division I Board of Directors. Not surprisingly, these core groups which consisted of presidents and chancellors of Penn State's competitor colleges and universities" to seize the chance to weaken the Penn State football program with penalties.
“These sanctions are an attack on past, present and future students of Penn State, the citizens of our commonwealth and our economy,” the visibly red-faced Republican Governor said Wednesday morning at a press conference on Penn State’s campus. “As governor of this commonwealth, I cannot and will not stand by and let it happen without a fight.”
PSU is not a party to the lawsuit. Nor has it been involved in its preparation or filing.
2.Corbett took up a fight Penn State could not lead
It was one thing to tear down the bronze statue of Joe Paterno outside its football stadium or paint over the halo in the mural. But it was quite another for the NCAA to brilliantly vacate all of coach Paterno's victories from 1998-2011 — the year that Paterno learned of an investigation into allegations of child sexual abuse, according to the Freeh Report. "All wins are removed from the NCAA's official records. Wins attributed to the coach of a team whose penalties are vacated will also be expunged," writes that NCAA.
screengrab via video
Several construction workers surround the iconic Joe Paterno statue in preparation for its removal in State College, Pa., Sunday, July 22, 2012.
Before former coach Joe Paterno lost 111 wins from what had been a total of 409 victories, he was the winningest coach in NCAA Division I football. Not anymore. That honor goes back to Grambling's late admired coach, Eddie Robinson, who had 408 wins.
From that moment on, a number of people decided to file appeals with the NCAA. Joe Paterno's family lawyer, Wick Sollers, in August sent a letter to the N.C.A.A., saying the Paternos wanted to appeal the “enormous damage” to Penn State, the community, athletes and Paterno, who died in January at age 85.
But the family's plans hit an immediate roadblock. "Penn State's sanctions are not subject to appeal," said NCAA spokesman Bob Williams.
Just days later, Ryan J. McCombie, a retired Navy SEAL who joined the 32-member Penn State board in June, filed an appeal to the NCAA from his attorneys over sanctions levied against the university. NCAA spokesman Bob Williams gave the same response.
What's interesting is that an unidentified Trustee told ESPN in August that the appeal filed with the NCAA was really a "precursor to a federal lawsuit asking a judge to invalidate the sanctions, because trustees expect the NCAA to reject the appeal."
Did Corbett always know that he would head this lawsuit even though he issued a statement in July that said otherwise? In his own press release on July 23, he said “Part of that corrective process is to accept the serious penalties imposed by the NCAA on Penn State University and its football program.”
Six months later, however, Corbett seemed to have a touch of "Romnesia."
"These sanctions did not punish Sandusky, nor did they punish the others who have been criminally charged," Corbett said regarding the suit, WBNG reported. "Rather, they punished the past, the present and the future students, current and former student athletes, local businesses and the citizens of Pennsylvania."
According to Centre Daily, State Rep. Scott Conklin said he was somewhat caught off guard with Corbett's sudden flip-flop.
“On the surface, today’s move by the Governor can be seen as encouraging, but I am somewhat bewildered by his change of heart," he said.
After citing the Corbett's press release from July 23, Conklin was more concerned. “Now he is going to court to challenge the same sanctions he accepted? I think his position is compromised because he was a part of the same rush to judgment he is now condemning. I agree the sanctions are terrible, but I fear the Governor’s case is flawed. How can he claim the sanctions are creating a severe economic burden, and at the same time maintain that Penn State should still pay the $60 million fine?"
3.Corbett must deflect attention from incoming Attorney General investigation of Corbett
Attorney General-elect Kathleen Kane, a former prosecutor, ran on a pledge to investigate why it took state prosecutors nearly three years — a period mostly under Corbett's watch — to charge Sandusky.
Corbett was Pennsylvania's attorney general when the state took over the Sandusky probe in early 2009. He had been governor for nearly a year — and a voting member of Penn State's board of trustees — by the time Sandusky was charged.
Kathleen Kane was elected Pennsylvania Attorney General on November 6, 2012
Critics say he deliberately understaffed the Sandusky investigation—leaving children to potentially suffer at Sandusky’s hands—so that he wouldn’t be the candidate who destroyed fabled Penn State and thus alienate voting Penn State alumni.
USA Today's Christine Brennan writes, it is certainly worth wondering if taking three years to charge Sandusky might have been caused by Corbett's concern for his 2010 campaign rather than the children of Pennsylvania.
Enter the NCAA lawsuit which states: "Plaintiff is the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, acting by and through its Governor, Thomas W. Corbett, Jr. Under Pennsylvania law, the Attorney General of the Commonwealth is authorized to bring actions on behalf of Pennsylvania and its citizens for violations of the antitrust laws of the United States."
But there's a catch: "The Commonwealth Attorneys Act, however, permits the Governor's Office of General Counsel to initiate such actions upon a delegation of that authority by the Attorney General. In accordance with the statute, Governor Corbett sought and received such a delegation from the Attorney General."
But it wasn't Kane, scheduled to be sworn in as Pennsylvania's chief legal officer on Jan. 15, who granted Corbett authority to initiate the suit. In fact, Kane, a Democrat,told Delcotimes on Wednesday she was not briefed or even consulted on case.
Instead, the Republican governor said current Attorney General, Linda Kelly — whom he appointed — turned over all legal standing to him. Kelly also approved the lawsuit being delegated to an outside firm, Cozen O’Connor in Washington.
This top-of-the-line law firm has some interesting history with Corbett, writes Philly Mag. Cozen O’Connor contributed almost $100,000 to the Governor’s campaigns in 2010, and is the former firm of Corbett’s new General Counsel.
There's more: "Kane cannot cancel the suit," Corbett told Centre daily. All in all, Corbett took up a fight that Penn State and others could not lead.
4.Corbett faces reelection in 2014 and he wants to win
Asked during the press conference whether he thought the lawsuit would help him gain favor with voters, Corbett snapped, “We’re not going to get into the politics of this."
When the Pennsylvania faces so many other pressing issues, like finding money to improve crumbling infrastructure, Thomas Baldino, a political science professor at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania told Time he finds it ironic that Corbett’s first major piece of business in the New Year concerned — restoring the reputation of the Penn State football program. “It’s transparently political."
John E Kaminski
Penn State student bookstore mural with a likeness of legendary Penn State coach Joe Paterno on it wearing a halo. Mural painted by artist Michael Pilato.
If Corbett's Twitter feed is any indication, Baldino is right. On Jan 4., the good governor tweeted "Great editorial about Governor standing up for PA in his lawsuit against the #NCAA").
"We can't ignore the political element to all this; as we said, it just also happens that political motivations may have brought about a socially responsible idea in this case," said the "great" editorial in the Lebanon Daily News. "From a political view, Corbett is seen as vulnerable nearly two years out from his re-election.
Philadelphia magazine’s Michael Bradley writes: "Corbett’s move is designed to boost his political status, not right a wrong."
5. Corbett's suit will likely elevate standing among Penn State stalwarts
"Corbett faces re-election in 2014 with a weak approval record," North Penn's Chambersburg Public Opinion writes. "If anyone needs an infusion of good will from an enormous and influential voting bloc, it’s Corbett."
"Penn State graduates are a powerful voting bloc," the Lebanon Daily News states.
And Christopher Borick, a political scientist and pollster at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA., told SF Gate: "There's no doubt that Penn State people hungry for a proactive response will be satisfied."
Philadelphia magazine’s Bradley agrees. "Penn State alumni are likely to celebrate the lawsuit with the same fervor they devote to a big victory on the football field, and that will translate to plenty of points come November 2014."
Especially with the Paterno family. North Penn's Chambersburg Public Opinion stated Sunday that Paterno’s family did its part by rushing to Corbett’s side two days before his formal press conference on the lawsuit.
Bottom line: Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the whole case, to me anyway, as an adult survivor of child sexual abuse is this: the NCAA sanctions were about Jerry Sandusky's victims. As NCAA President Emmert said in July, "the Executive Committee, the Division I Board and I – have examined and discussed this case, we have kept foremost in our thoughts the tragic damage that has been done to the victims and their families."
Now Corbett wants to rob Sandusky's victims of rightly deserved justice that the NCAA had the courage to give. “We are disappointed by the Governor's action today," Donald M. Remy, NCAA Executive Vice President and General Counsel said responding to the suit in a statement. "Not only does this forthcoming lawsuit appear to be without merit, it is an affront to all of the victims in this tragedy - lives that were destroyed by the criminal actions of Jerry Sandusky."
And for what? Votes to win an election? Corbett may deny that politics underlies his complaint, but as the Associated Press' Peter Jackson wrote Saturday, Corbett's actions speak louder than words.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com