From the gridiron to the courthouse, the battle over Penn State football continues. Governor Tom Corbett is suing the NCAA over sanctions handed down to the school following a sex abuse scandal that rocked State College last year. In June, former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts of child sex abuse involving 10 boys over a 15-year span. He was sentenced to a minimum of 30 years in prison.
Sandusky wasn’t the only one punished for his crimes. The Penn State football program was sanctioned with a $60 million fine, a 4-year bowl game ban, wins from 1998 through 2011 vacated, and a reduction in scholarships.
It wasn’t what is known as a “death sentence” in college athletics…but it may as well have been. At the time, neither the school nor Governor Corbett objected to the NCAA’s move. But now, the governor says the NCAA “piled on” the program with its sanctions and the community is suffering unnecessarily.
“These sanctions are an attack on the past, present and future students at Penn State [and] the citizens of our commonwealth,” Corbett said last month. “As governor of this commonwealth I cannot and will not stand by and let it happen without a fight.”
The NCAA responded to the lawsuit with a statement which read in part:
"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, State has accepted the consequences for its role and the role of its employees and is moving forward."
Penn State has said it had no role in the lawsuit.
The Republican governor is up for re-election in 2014 and a new Public Policy Poll has him with just a 38% approval rating. Voters disapprove of how Corbett handled the Penn State scandal as the state’s attorney general by nearly a two-to-one margin. But 52% of those polled back his decision to file a lawsuit against the NCAA.
Radio talk show host Michael Smerconish tells Hardball’s Chris Matthews that Corbett is taking a beating in the polls not because of his performance as governor, but because of his early role in the Sandusky investigation.
“I think one of the reasons that he’s taken such a hurt is that people look at him and wonder why as attorney general it took so long for him to move on Sandusky,” says Smerconish.
“We're not going to get into the politics of this. I'm here for one reason. I believe this to be the right thing to do on behalf of the students who have been through this institution, who are here now and who will be coming here in the future,” Corbett said last month.
Not about politics? Not the case, says Daily Beast columnist Buzz Bissinger.
“He clearly did this to appeal to the Penn State base and community and alums which are a huge part of the state because he may be in trouble for re-election,” says Bissinger. “It’s one of the most transparent political acts I’ve ever seen and really, really despicable.”