Valid sanctions: A court questions the Penn State deal to help children

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Instead of resolving the question of how a $60 million fine levied against Penn State University by the NCAA can be spent, a Commonwealth Court panel has reopened the debate over whether the sanctions were legal in the first place.

Soon after former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted in 2012 of molesting boys, Penn State’s president signed a deal with the governing body for collegiate sports. The agreement meant Nittany Lions football would not be suspended from play, but the ink was barely dry on that fair accord before Pennsylvania politicians started trying to erase it.

Gov. Tom Corbett challenged the NCAA’s authority, a federal lawsuit that quickly was dismissed. Then state Sen. Jake Corman introduced and the General Assembly passed a parochial law that said only organizations inside Pennsylvania could benefit from the payment Penn State would be making to help child abuse victims.

The NCAA fought back, asserting that the law was unconstitutional, in part because it applied to no one else. On Tuesday, Commonwealth Court decided 6-1 that the law is fair because, although it applies only to Penn State now, at some time in the future, it might apply to any one of the state-owned or state-related universities or its community colleges. Only Judge Dan Pellegrini disagreed.

To amplify the confusion, the judges now question whether the NCAA had the authority to sanction Penn State over the sexual abuse scandal at all. That question already has been asked and answered, in the affirmative. Penn State itself agreed to it by signing the consent decree.

At this stage, the whole agreement could unravel. And who would lose then? Abused children who could have benefited from help through worthy organizations working on their behalf.

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