Corbett’s lawsuit puzzles lawmakers

Gov. Tom Corbett’s antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA filed on behalf of the commonwealth is being met with bewilderment and concern from state lawmakers.

State Rep. John McGinnis, R-Altoona, said he wishes Corbett would focus on main issues, not the Penn State “side show.”

“I’m not sure why he’s doing this. Quite frankly, he has much bigger fish to fry. He’s got a blueprint to deliver on transportation; he’s said pension reform is his No. 1 priority; and he has a budget to introduce in February. If those are off the list, then he should look at Right to Work and cutting taxes,” McGinnis, a Penn State alumnus and professor, said.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court on Wednesday accuses the NCAA of violating its obligation to ensure competition among members by levying sanctions that diminish Penn State’s competitiveness and harm the state’s economy.

“I don’t think what the governor is doing is wise. Lawyers I’ve spoken with said he has no legal standing,” McGinnis said. “Suing the NCAA is not a good use of his time, and it’s certainly not a good use of taxpayer money.”

The state Legislature annually budgets tax money for Pennsylvania to engage in business with outside legal firms, Corbett’s spokesman Kevin Harley said.

“It will be taxpayer dollars funding the case,” he said.

Money spent on hiring an outside law firm, Cozen O’Connor, would be saved if the case was handled by the state government’s lawyers already working within the administration, but Harley said antitrust is a specific practice, requiring a specialized law firm.

Harley declined to estimate the cost of the litigation, and a Cozen O’Connor spokeswoman was not available on Thursday. Harley reiterated what Corbett’s General Counsel Jim Schultz said after Corbett’s announcement of the litigation.

“As in any type of lawsuit, legal fees would be paid for the winner. So that money we spend could be repaid if successful. But that’s putting the cart in front of the horse right now,” he said. “Any cost will pale in comparison to the damages we think the state is suffering because of the sanctions. We believe this is a wise use of taxpayer resources.”

Harley claimed the Corbett administration used outside law firms half as much as the previous administration.

State Rep. Jerry Stern, R-Martinsburg, supports the lawsuit, regardless of cost.

“I don’t think you can determine a cost to do the right thing. The NCAA is impacting the university, a major employer in the commonwealth. This had wide-ranging impact,” Stern said. “I believe it’s in the best interest for Pennsylvania businesses.”

The NCAA has stated there is no merit to the case, and state Sen. John Eichelberger, R-Blair, has doubts as well.

“The antitrust violation is the new spin, but I don’t know that is valid. Penn State agreed to the sanctions, so it’s a contractual issue,” he said.

A philosophical problem Eichelberger has with the possibility of courts scrapping Penn State sanctions including the $60 million fine, is that Penn State might look like a hero if the trustees decide to donate that money to sex abuse programs in Pennsylvania, as Corbett has suggested.

“If the money is coming into programs around the state, then I would hope Penn State would never share in any credit for new programs. That would be equivalent to a rich man who writes a check, then his problems go away,” Eichelberger said.