The politics of the NCAA lawsuit

While Governor Tom Corbett (R) says his lawsuit against the NCAA over its sanctions against Penn State is not political in nature, some political observers say it could be a key factor not only in the upcoming gubernatorial race but in initial relationship with incoming Attorney General Kathleen Kane (D).

Corbett announced the federal antitrust lawsuit Wednesday, saying the association “overreached” when it fined the university $60 million, banned it from post-season play for four years, limited scholarships and took other measures. The sanctions were in response to the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

When the sanctions were announced, Corbett called them part of the “corrective” process the university was going through. But now, he says the NCAA should not have acted as it did.

“At the same, I think a day later, I talked about the severity of these. And, taking a look at what’s going to happen,” said Corbett. “In this case, President Emmert and the executive committee overstepped the bounds and the rules of the NCAA, imposed their own penalties without using the infractions committee. They did not follow their rules, thereby I believe violated the antitrust laws of the United States.”

Quinnipiac University released a poll August 2, which showed Pennsylvanians’ attitudes toward to the sanctions. The pollsters found 44 percent of people thought the sanctions were too severe. However, 33 percent thought they were appropriate. Meanwhile, 14 percent thought they weren’t severe enough.

The pollsters also found “52 percent of people in households where someone has or is attending Penn State say the penalties are too severe.”

“Penn State alumni is a very interesting political community because it’s bipartisan. And, a lot of people think it could be the X factor in the governor’s re-election,” said Keegan Gibson, managing editor of PoliticsPA.com. “The governor’s action will help get out in front of potential criticism of people who will criticize him for supporting the sanctions at first, or at least agreeing with them.”

Corbett is up for re-election in 2014.

Former Attorney General Walter Cohen said unless a settlement is reached quickly, the case is likely to last into 2014 and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Later this month, Democrat Kathleen Kane will take over as attorney general. She was critical of Corbett’s handling of the Sandusky case during her campaign. She said she plans to review how the investigation moved forward.

“This could be Governor Corbett’s way of getting ahead of the curve and helping to co-opt the narrative of that story before Kathleen Kane takes office,” said Gibson.

Current Attorney General Linda Kelly designated the Governor’s Office of General Counsel to handle this case against the NCAA. State officials said she did so in part because of the amount of work being undertaken in the prosecution of Penn State administrators Graham Spanier, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz.

Walter Cohen said it’s unlikely Kathleen Kane would intervene in the governor’s case. Kane’s spokesman did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

“I don’t think that Attorney General Kane would want to say, ‘No, I want this case back.’ It’s the governor’s case. It’s an unusual case. It’s a difficult case,” said Cohen.