Corbett announced Wednesday that the state of Pennsylvania will file a federal lawsuit against the National Collegiate Athletic Association, alleging that it went beyond its authority in levelling strict sanctions against PSU in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
“The NCAA and its president, Mark Emmert, seized upon the opportunity for publicity for their own benefit to make a showing of aggressive discipline on the backs of the citizens of our commonwealth and Penn State University,’’ Corbett said, “and this is why I have chosen to fight this in the courts.’’
The announcement was designed to make a big, public splash. In its response the NCAA called the suit an affront to Sandusky’s victims, meanwhile one of the prosecution’s primary witnesses, Victim No. 4, spoke out in favor of Corbett’s suit.
Corbett has been under sustained fire for his role in the evolving scandal. Some allege that he dragged his feet on the Sandusky investigation, others criticize his role as a trustee of PSU, others have said he was too compliant with the NCAA in the first place.
The down side? It’s picking a scab on a sensitive issue.
The first political benefit of the lawsuit is clear: it appeals to the state’s sizeable PSU alumni community. Corbett’s was harshly criticized by many alumni over comments he made when the sanctions were first applied. “Part of that corrective process is to accept the serious penalties imposed today by the NCAA on Penn State University and its football program,” he said at the time.
The second is indirect, but important: it helps jam Kathleen Kane.
Normally within the purview of the Attorney General’s office, Corbett said he sought approval from outgoing Republican AG Linda Kelly to pull the trigger on the suit. It’s not clear how long the move has been in process; Corbett attributed the delay to his desire to wait until after football season.
But the announcement comes less than two weeks before Democrat Kathleen Kane is set to be sworn in as Pa.’s new AG. Kane has been one of Corbett’s loudest critics on his handling of the Sandusky case and promised to conduct a full review. It’s certain to be a high profile process, and a potential headache for Corbett’s re-election campaign in 2014.
Kane issued a statement saying she hadn’t been briefed on the suit and wouldn’t comment until she had been.
“As I was not consulted or briefed beforehand on the Commonwealth’s action against the NCAA, I must reserve comment until I have had an opportunity to review the case filing and receive a full briefing on the matter,” she said.
So for the first time in a long time, Corbett is in the driver’s seat on PSU. Instead of landing a big blow during her first month on the job, Kane must decide either to go along with the Governor’s suit – and cede the goodwill it may muster – or risk appearing overly partisan.