Lawsuit political, justified

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett is taking a political football and running with it.

And by filing a federal anti-trust lawsuit Wednesday against the National Collegiate Athletic Association, with the goal that a judge will throw out the harsh sanctions against the Penn State football program for its mishandling of the Jerry Sandusky case, Corbett is clearly in the open field.

Corbett claims the penalties, which include an unprecedented $60 million fine and a four-year ban on bowl games as well as drastic scholarship reductions and the vacating of 111 wins from 1998 through 2011, were “overreaching and unlawful.”

He accused the NCAA of “piling on” for its own image at the expense of not only Penn State but the entire state that counts on the school – and its football program – as an economic engine.

On one hand, very few, especially inside Pennsylvania, would disagree with Corbett.

Sandusky was arrested, convicted on 45 counts of child sexual abuse, sentenced to 30 years in prison – and likely will spend the rest of his life behind bars – while other officials in power at Penn State at the time either were charged for their roles and/or lost their jobs.

That includes former PSU President Graham Spanier, Vice President Gary Schultz and Athletic Director Tim Curley. Each was charged with perjury before a grand jury, obstruction, endangering the welfare of children, conspiracy and failure to properly report suspected abuse. They maintain the innocence and await their day in court. Former football coach Joe Paterno was also fired after admitting he did not do enough to stop Sandusky. He died last January.

To that end, those directly involved in the Sandusky matter were penalized severely.

Corbett is right that the sanctions too harshly affected those not involved – such as the current football team, the new football staff, all of Penn State’s student-athletes and State College and regional business communities.

Penn State is not involved in this lawsuit. It was afraid if it challenged the NCAA after the sanctions came out in July, it might further risk its program so it accepted the sanctions and the Freeh report and used the terrible ordeal to create a better working relationship between the university and its athletic department.

On the other hand, obviously Corbett is considering the political ramifications.

He is a member of PSU’s unpopular Board of Trustees and reportedly was a vocal proponent of firing both Spanier and Paterno. As attorney general, he originally started the Sandusky investigation and was widely criticized for taking too long to complete it while he was running for governor.

When the NCAA sanctions were declared, he accepted them but has now changed his mind.

He dismissed the notion that the state’s historic lawsuit is tied to his attempt to get re-elected when he must run again in 2014.

“We’re not going to get into the politics of this,” he said.

Others will do that for him, but that doesn’t mean this particular case isn’t worth exploring to see if someone else – someone neutral – agrees that the NCAA overstepped its bounds. It’s possible the sanctions could be reduced if not dropped.

Either way, at least an effort is being made to find out.