Corbett's PSU audible is a sorry call on his part

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There's a metaphor deep in Gov. Tom Corbett's 43-page federal lawsuit against the NCAA that must have brought backslaps to whoever wrote it.

In a reference to the Penn State football players who defected to other schools in the wake of NCAA sanctions, it says:

"Like children looting a newly broken pinata, competing colleges and universities promptly snapped up the newly available football players, strengthening their own football programs at the expense the one the NCAA had conspired to decimate."

That's nice. Unfortunately, the reference to children reminds us why the sanctions are there. Penn State failed to protect children. Former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky used football as his lure for multiple instances of the sexual abuse of 10 boys, and not even a graduate assistant coach witnessing the sodomizing of a young boy in the showers of the Lasch Football Building in 2001 was enough to get anyone in the football program or the administration to call the police or even find out the boy's name.

This lawsuit complains that the National Collegiate Athletic Association sanctions of stiff fines and stripped scholarships have damaged the Penn State "brand.'' No, the crimes themselves did.

The suit takes pains to "unequivocally condemn the actions of Jerry Sandusky and the alleged failures of any university official that contributed to the concealment of abuse.'' Then it expends much ink carping about how these sanctions are cutting into football memorabilia sales and the like. That seems to miss a key point: Penn State isn't supposed to prosper from this scandal. It's supposed to hurt a little because it stood by as too many boys got hurt a lot.

Gov. Corbett has run a reverse on his statement last July that "part of that corrective process is to accept the serious penalties.'' Now his suit uses football jargon, accusing the NCAA of piling on.

The punishment in question goes well beyond a 15-yard penalty and automatic first down. Penn State agreed last summer to pay $60 million over five years into an endowment for programs preventing child sex abuse or assisting the victims.

Now, our governor is saying, hey, we're victims, too. Yet the pain is hardly intense. The average home attendance for the Nittany Lions was 96,730 last season. That's down more than 12,000 from 2007 but was also the fifth-highest average attendance across the NCAA.

As the suit itself states, Penn State is still the nation's 11th-most-profitable football program. The team is in no danger of needing to hold bake sales for new uniforms anytime soon.

The governor's George Costanza argument -- there's nothing in the NCAA manual about this kind of punishment for this kind of crime -- is only weakened further by the examples he cites of other programs' infractions. None of the other crimes were as entwined with campus football as the Sandusky horror show. The Penn State situation is unique.

It's probably true that the NCAA got tough here to change its own reputation for being "soft on discipline,'' as the suit suggests. But had someone in Pennsylvania brought the same resources and resolve to the first accusation of sexual assault in the football building, there would be no worry about a drop in football attendance now.

Contrast this lawsuit with the way the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese handled the Central Catholic High School "tea-bagging'' incident in its locker room in 2002: Two Central Catholic football players were charged with sexually assaulting a 15-year-old teammate following an August practice. The assailants restrained their teammate and slapped him in the face with their genitals. Hazing, some shrugged.

The diocese didn't shrug. It barred the team from the WPIAL football playoffs. Its message: We are a team. Somebody should have done something to help that boy. Nobody did, nobody came forward when asked for information, so your season is over.

Some football boosters tried to take it to court but got nowhere.

Though the tea-bagging incident occurred a year after Mr. Sandusky was witnessed assaulting a boy in a Penn State football shower, it seems far more in the past. Central Catholic took its hit, moved on, and its football program recovered.

The governor's lawsuit, in contrast, will only keep the Sandusky scandal in the headlines. The Penn State "brand'' doesn't need that kind of help.

brianoneill

Brian O'Neill: boneill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1947.


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