The hardball politics of the Penn State lawsuit

Updated

Let me finish tonight with an update about Penn State.

Last June, Jerry Sandusky was convicted of 45 of the 48 counts he faced involving 10 young victims. Then last July, the NCAA, relying on the investigation by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, fined Penn State University $60 million.

Penn State did not appeal, and at the time, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, a member of the board of trustees, also accepted the decision by the NCAA.

Yesterday, however, Corbett filed a lawsuit against the NCAA for what he called “overreaching and unlawful sanctions” placed on Penn State. He seeks to set aside the $60 million fine.

But is the lawsuit really a case of hardball politics? Here are a few considerations:

Corbett is up for re-election in 2014 and his poll numbers are poor. The Penn State fans are an important part of the Pennsylvania electorate.

Second, Corbett didn’t consult the newly elected Attorney General, Kathleen Kane. Instead, he hired an outside law firm.

Third, when Kane takes offices in two weeks, it’s expected she’ll deliver on a campaign promise to investigate why the Sandusky investigation, begun in 2008 by Corbett when he was attorney general, took so long.

As Buzz Bissinger noted in today’s Daily Beast, Kane insists that in normal circumstances a predatory animal would have been arrested after the first allegation was proven to be founded. That would have gotten Sanduky off the street, and nothing would have precluded the state police from further investigation.

But instead, a grand jury was impaneled. It went on for more than three years, which kept the predatory animal free to attack until his arrest.

Bissinger also pointed out that Corbett took close to $202,000 in gubernatorial campaign donations from board members of the charity started by Sandusky. And in the meantime, there were all of two state investigators (some say it was only one) assigned to the case of the predatory animal until Corbett became governor in 2011. It was only afterwards that the investigation expanded into the scope it always deserved.

Finally, many legal experts are opining that the lawsuit is unlikely to succeed. Lester Munson at ESPN noted that the only apparent legal theory is based on antitrust laws that govern monopolies that use their powers to fix prices or to manipulate markets. The NCAA might be a monopoly, but it doesn’t appear to be conspiring to manipulate any market.

A worthy lawsuit or a political missive—voters will be the ultimate jury.

The hardball politics of the Penn State lawsuit

Updated