Reaction to Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett's announcement Wednesday that he intends to sue the NCAA over its response to the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State came with swiftness reminiscent of NCAA's original actions.
Corbett's 43-page complaint contends that the NCAA's motives in leveling harsh sanctions against PSU, which include years of football scholarship losses and bowl bans, are to "gain leverage in the court of public opinion, boost the reputation and power of the NCAA's president, enhance the competitive position of certain NCAA members, and weaken a fellow competitor."
Penn State, which counts Corbett and five gubernatorial appointees among its board of trustees, issued a statement Wednesday that read "Penn State is not a party to the lawsuit and has not been involved in its preparation or filing." It goes on to quote university officials as saying, "The University is committed to full compliance with the Consent Decree, the Athletics Integrity Agreement and, as appropriate, the implementation of the Freeh report recommendations. We look forward to continuing to work with Sen. George Mitchell as the athletic integrity monitor for complete fulfillment of the Athletics Integrity Agreement." [The AIA, the terms of which PSU agreed to with the NCAA and the Big Ten Conference in late August, "provides for the appointment of an independent, third-party monitor to oversee the university's compliance and the systems, processes and procedures in place to comply with the NCAA constitution, bylaws, rules and regulations, as well as the Big Ten's rules and regulations," according to a PSU statement issued at the time.]
The NCAA issued its own statement Wednesday, quoting the association's executive vice president and general counsel, Donald Remy: "We are disappointed by the Governor's action [Wednesday]. 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. While the innocence that was stolen can never be restored, Penn State has accepted the consequences for its role and the role of its employees and is moving forward. The announcement by the Governor is a setback to the University's efforts."
USA Today's Christine Brennan considers Corbett's actions to be not only be a setback to Penn State, but the most embarrassing day of all in an embarrassing 14 months for the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Wrote Brennan late last night, "Corbett and any other state leader who participated in what at times sounded like the pleadings of the paranoid Wednesday morning proved once and for all that their stunning obsession with Penn State football - an obsession that led to the Penn State cover-up that led to more young boys being raped by Sandusky -- still controls the state."
Associated Press columnist Jim Litke, meanwhile, quoted an unnamed legal expert who says Corbett's antitrust claims against the NCAA have merit. No one is in favor of abusing children, Litke wrote. "But determining the punishment for covering up an actual crime - for what a few men in high places at Penn State did, instead of what they should have done - is still a matter for the courts, not the NCAA. That's where the damages will be decided going forward, and where they had been until the NCAA took a whack."
As tough as Corbett's claims of NCAA overreach are to prove, Litke continued, "the commonwealth's lawyers are on the right track. Most of [NCAA president Mark] Emmert's previous stabs at reforming the problems he can do something about - Google 'Ohio State and coach Jim Tressel' or 'Auburn and quarterback Cam Newton' or 'Miami and agent Nevin Shapiro' - have been roundly panned. Maybe, like NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in the 'Bountygate' mess, he couldn't resist a slam-dunk opportunity to look strong. And maybe a few others on the executive committee that rubber-stamped those unprecedented penalties didn't mind seeing Penn State being humbled and weakened. Added up, that looks plausibly enough like a rush to judgment."
Litke then concluded, "It should be comforting to anyone who wants to see justice done that the matter is in the hands of a real court, instead of the kangaroo court that Emmert and his crew convened at their headquarters in Indianapolis."
Writing for Sports Illustrated, Michael McCann, director of the Sports Law Institute at Vermont Law School, made clear that the NCAA's actions sprung from unprecedented circumstances and called the sports nexus between the association and its punishment of Penn State "dubious." However, the NCAA can attack the lawsuit on several grounds, including going after Corbett himself for his inaction in prosecuting Sandusky as Pennsylvania's attorney general from 2005 to 2011. "The NCAA could maintain Corbett's own behavior contributed to the injury for which he now seeks redress," wrote McCann.
One Corbett opponent has already gone on the attack. While hoping that the suit ultimately has merit, John Hanger, a Democrat who intends to run for governor in the 2014 election, questioned why Corbett filed the suit without first consulting incoming attorney general Kathleen Kane. Corbett will not be able to undo the damage he's done to Penn State, "by his handling of the Sandusky matter, by his budget cuts and by his poor service on the Penn State Board of Trustees," said Hanger, adding, "A governor facing re-election and a properly enraged Penn State fan base probably has one or two thoughts go through his mind when thinking through this lawsuit."
But what do those representing Sandusky's victim's make of this? At least one victim's attorney called Corbett's lawsuit "way off base" and "heading nowhere fast." In an e-mail to USA Today, Slade McLaughlin, who represents Aaron Fisher (originally referred to as Victim No. 1 during Sandusky's trial), wrote, "Frankly, I don't see how Corbett has standing to file such a lawsuit when Penn State has already agreed to accept the sanctions and also agreed not to sue. I'd be more than a little surprised if the incoming attorney general, Kathleen Kane, will support this filing when she is sworn in on Jan. 15."