Governor Corbett believes the sanctions the N.C.A.A. handed down in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal were too harsh and missed the people they should be aiming for. He’s wrong.
Penn State, Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky are back in the news yet again. This time, though, it is not their doing. It seems Governor Corbett is suing on behalf of the residents and small businesses of Pennsylvania to get the penalties the N.C.A.A. handed down, including a $60 million fine and a 4-year probation, during which the Nittany Lions will be ineligible to play in a post-season bowl, negated. Penn State is not a party to the suit and has publicly stated that it will abide by the sanctions it received.
Why would the Governor, without support from the University, launch this suit? The two answers are, in short, votes and money. Since the full horror of the crimes Jerry Sandusky was then alleged to have committed with the knowledge of members of the University, including Paterno, came to light more than a year ago, Penn State fans have continued to defend both the school and its former head coach. Feeling like they are now victims, they will look kindly upon any politician that stands up in their defense. The good Governor must know this.
Moreover, he has already been buffeted from both sides on this case. Paterno supporters saw him as the architect of the move to fire the now-deceased coach last November, a criticism to which Governor Corbett has been particularly sensitive. On the other hand, there are those who believe he reacted too slowly to the case, which he began investigating as the state’s Attorney General back in 2009. As Politico reported two months ago, only 17 percent of Pennsylvanians approve of his handling of it. Clearly, this is an area in which the Governor needs to resuscitate his image.
The second reason for the suit I’ve alluded to before on The Good Men Project. The Penn State football program is one of the state’s biggest economic engines, contributing, at least before the scandal erupted, an average of $59 million to the Pennsylvania economy every home game. Over an average of 6 to 7 home games every fall, that’s anywhere from $360 million to $420 million annually.
Penn State remains both competitive (the team finished this season, it’s first on probation, 8 and 4) and popular. Though I haven’t seen updated numbers for the 2012 season, my bet is the economic indicators didn’t take all that big a dip. Governor Corbett must know, however, that four years is a long time to go without playing in a bowl and that the inability to compete in the post-season is, ultimately, going to have a long-term impact on the program’s recruiting, from which it will be difficult, if not impossible, to recover. Mediocre football teams don’t generate $400 million in economic activity.
Now, usually, I’d be all for suing the N.C.A.A., an extrajudicial junta whose regulations are both byzantine and inconsistently enforced. But, in this case, Governor Corbett is wrong, both in motive and intent. He claimed at a press conference yesterday, “These [N.C.A.A.] sanctions did not punish Sandusky, nor did they punish the others who have been criminally charged. Rather, they punished the past, the present, the local businesses and the citizens of Pennsylvania.”
Of course, that past was intimately tied up with the crimes Jerry Sandusky committed and the present remains equally culpable. Penn State’s fans continue to exhibit a lack of remorse, the suit itself is prima facie evidence of a lack of shame or remorse on the part of the Governor, who is now, by law, a member of the university’s board of directors, and the local businesses and citizens of Pennsylvania helped create the atmosphere that allowed, one might even say encouraged, Paterno and school administrators to consider the damage to the football program a scandal might cause ahead of the very real damage that was being done to the young boys Sandusky abused.