New Castle News

January 4, 2013

Our Opinion: Dubious lawsuit, Corbett’s action against NCAA fails test of logic

By Staff
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — In the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, a hefty penalty was imposed on Penn State University.

It came not from government or the courts, but rather the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The university’s football team was forced to forfeit many of its wins and give up attendance at bowl games for the next four years. It also was ordered to pay $60 million in penalties.

That amount — the equivalent to what the Nittany Lion football program generates in a year — was to be directed toward social service programs that deal with child sexual abuse.

The NCAA’s penalties alternately were cheered and jeered by those who saw it either as a powerful statement on behalf of children, or as meddling by an organization with an inconsistent track record when it comes to enforcing rules.

After all, the Sandusky scandal had nothing to do with recruiting players or actions on the field. Critics contended the NCAA had no reason to get involved.

But it did, and Penn State pointedly did not object. The university did not appeal, reasoning the best way to get beyond the Sandusky scandal was to do nothing that would drag it out. There would be no highly publicized battle with the NCAA.

Gov. Tom Corbett, however, apparently has no such qualms. His administration has filed a federal lawsuit against the NCAA, challenging the actions against Penn State.

The obvious question is why? The governor serves on Penn State’s board of trustees and was quoted as accepting the NCAA’s penalties when they were imposed. So why fight them now?

We suspect it has something to do with politics. There are plenty of people in Pennsylvania who are upset with the NCAA’s decision. Corbett’s move will appeal to them.

Yet it’s one thing to criticize the NCAA; it’s another thing entirely to go to the trouble of taking it to court. And right off the bat, Corbett faces a problem with any such suit because of what’s known as legal standing.

For a party to pursue a lawsuit, the courts must see it as having the standing to do so. In other words, it must have a direct interest in the matter.

That’s a problem here, because the NCAA imposed its penalties on the university, not the commonwealth. Penn State is not an agency of state government.

The courts are likely to have a problem with Corbett’s involvement. Furthermore, they won’t be able to ignore the fact Penn State failed to take any action against the penalties at the time they were imposed, including appealing them through the NCAA itself.

At some point, the opportunity to object goes by the boards.

As for encouraging the NCAA to direct Penn State’s fines to Pennsylvania’s agencies, we think that effort has merit. But filing a lawsuit against the organization isn’t the way to gain its cooperation.