Once again, it's all about football. And money.
The suit emphasizes Penn State as a "generator of revenue" and a "significant economic driver." The sanctions, which include a four-year postseason ban, voiding 14 years of wins and a $60 million fine, are viewed as restricting trade. At the news conference, his general counsel, James Schultz, stressed the "collateral damage" done to local businesses, noting that Penn State was the nation's "second most profitable" football program, though there's scant evidence sales have been hurt.
Nothing seems to stop Penn State football from generating revenue in a commonwealth where every other vehicle features a Nittany Lion decal. ("Threatened harm" to football-related apparel and memorabilia sales is mentioned in the suit.) Indeed, according to a Bloomberg News report after the sanctions, donations tied to ticket sales were on track to earn a record $17.5 million. Overall, the program generated $50 million in the 2010-11 season.
Incredibly, the lawsuit mentions that tuition might increase in the wake of lost revenues that would "have an adverse effect on Penn State's status as a first-rate university." This from a governor who last year attempted to slash the university's state funding by almost a third.
And then there's politics. The Republican governor is facing reelection and the whole thing reeks of politics, particularly the timing. This may be the first time in the commonwealth's history that a lawsuit kick-started a gubernatorial campaign.
There are 145,000 proud Penn State alums, a powerful constituency, and countless more fiercely faithful Nittany Lions fans enraged over what happened to their school, the football program, and the tarnished legacy of Joe Paterno.
During her campaign, incoming Democratic Attorney General Kathleen Kane questioned the use of a grand jury and the nearly three years it took to investigate assistant coach Jerry Sandusky when Corbett ran the office. If elected, she promised to conduct a probe. Kane won't be inaugurated until Jan. 15 and wasn't consulted about the suit.
Let's review what Corbett said when the sanctions were imposed: "I am confident that the university will move forward from this experience" and will "complete the healing process."
So much for moving forward and completing the healing. He might as well name his campaign website movebackward.org.
Last week, Chris Christie solidified his rock-star status after demanding Hurricane Sandy relief aid. The National Journal noted that he "may be the smartest man in politics." Corbett? Not so much.
"Who is running the state, Barney Fife?" asked USA Today's Christine Brennan, who argued that Corbett's actions "undid a year's worth of goodwill." Washington Post conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin declared Corbett "the Dunce of the Year." A New York Times editorial described the lawsuit as "brazenly misguided."
There's a persuasive argument that the NCAA, no beacon of integrity, was too aggressive in its sanctions, that it took a horrific criminal case and used it to punish an entire football program. The governor should have responded swiftly. His suit would have been less open to political interpretation. But wasn't it Penn State's role to take action?
The lawsuit, required reading, is withering in its criticism of the NCAA and views it as the university's true enemy. The sanctions were a "clumsy" attempt "to burnish its own often-derided public reputation" and "should not be permitted to exploit the tragedy" against a "weakened Penn State." It criticizes the $1.6 million salary of NCAA president Mark Emmert. This would be the same week coach Bill O'Brien, after flirting with NFL offers, announced he was staying at Penn State, with a reported annual compensation of $3.6 million.
The independent Freeh report examined the university's gross negligence in the wake of Sandusky's abhorrent crimes. That report, issued days before the NCAA's sanctions, decried Penn State's "excess focus on athletics" and "a culture of reverence for the football program." And money, so much money.
A lesson, apparently, the governor has yet to learn.
Contact Karen Heller
at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter at @kheller.