When Gov. Tom Corbett announced he was suing the NCAA over Penn State sanctions he’d accepted as “part of the corrective process” a few months back, it provoked a collective “huh?”
Now that we’ve all had a couple of days to read and reflect on his case, it doesn’t look much better.
Several newspapers around the state panned the lawsuit, including the conservative Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said “his complaint is belated, bizarre and self-serving.”
Not being an antitrust lawyer, it’s hard for me to evaluate the legal substance of his argument, though it’s striking that Penn State, the sanctioned institution, did not join in the complaint. You can read an insightful legal analysis by SI.com’s Michael McCann here.
For my money, the fact that the suit reaches so far and wide to show damage from the sanctions is a sign that this is a legal Hail Mary play. The notion that businesses will go broke because of the harm to Penn State’s football program is close to laughable.
I’ve looked at sports-boosters’ claims that they’re big job creators for years; most real economists will tell you they aren’t. Precious few businesses are created by sports teams that play a half-dozen home games a year, and Penn State’s games will continue under the sanctions anyway.
If you want to complain about hardships on students, parents and communities, you might consider the cuts in higher education Corbett himself proposed for the state budget.
The complaint approaches hysteria at one point, when it charges that the sanctions were designed to weaken Penn State football and benefit its rivals.
It notes that some players and recruits left Penn State after the sanctions were announced, and asserts that “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 of the one the NCAA had conspired to decimate.”
It’s hard not to conclude that the suit was at least in part an effort by Corbett to get out in front of an issue that’s wounded him politically as he prepares for re-election.
Maybe it helps him, maybe not.
If the NCAA succeeds in getting the suit dismissed, Corbett will have to explain spending taxpayer funds for a private law firm to pursue a losing cause.
If the case proceeds, it could well be protracted and expensive. McCann notes that antitrust cases are “often complicated and fact-intensive, often with expert witness economists conducting original research to promote or oppose legal arguments.” They often take years to litigate.
Several political analysts I spoke with Thursday said they thought Corbett made a mistake by reminding everyone of the scandal that’s been so problematic for him.
On the other hand, there are a host of unresolved legal issues surrounding the case, not to mention an attorney general-elect who’s pledged to review Corbett’s investigation. So the damn thing wasn’t going away anyway.
Maybe Corbett was right to charge ahead and cast himself as a champion of Penn State.
But at the moment, it looks risky.