In NCAA lawsuit, a war of words from Pa. Gov. Tom Corbett

In 2003, after a Baylor University basketball player murdered a teammate and coaches told players to lie to investigators, the NCAA did not penalize the program for the crime or the cover-up.

And when an internal investigation at the University of North Carolina revealed football and basketball players were taking classes that had no actual instruction, the NCAA said none of its rules were violated.

Gov. Tom Corbett thinks that’s not fair.

If the NCAA did not sanction Baylor or North Carolina, Corbett wondered why Penn State deserved to be sanctioned for child sex abuse by Jerry Sandusky and the alleged cover-up by senior university leaders.

Those were among a bevy of questions, snipes and criticisms that line the 43 pages of the antitrust lawsuit the governor filed Wednesday against the NCAA. For Penn State alumni and fans who have been angered over the sanctions and the NCAA, they find themselves an ally in the governor.

Corbett essentially called the NCAA a hypocrite — saying the organization makes millions and millions of dollars on TV contracts and bowl games but is blaming Sandusky’s crimes and the allegations of cover-up on a university culture dominated by the football program.

“In reality, the NCAA’s attack on Penn State had nothing to do with the perceived ‘culture’ of Penn State football,” the governor said in the suit. “Division I college football is a huge generator of revenue for participating institutions, and virtually all football schools treat their football coaches and programs with ‘deference’ and ‘reverence.’

“The NCAA, of course, contributes directly to this ‘culture’ by permitting and condoning lucrative television and apparel contracts for its major conferences and institutions, outsourcing its postseason to for-profit entities such as bowl games and the Bowl Championship Series, and allowing the contests between its most skilled ‘student-athletes’ to become national prime time entertainment on a weekly basis.”

In another snipe, Corbett used NCAA President Mark Emmert’s words from 1999 against him, when Emmert, as president at Louisiana State University, defended paying a football coach a seven-figure salary: “Simply put, success in LSU football is essential for the success of Louisiana State University,” the lawsuit quoted Emmert as saying.

The lawsuit called the NCAA’s sanctions a “clumsy attempt” to get publicity at Penn State’s expense. Furthermore, Corbett alleges, NCAA leaders knew Penn State could not fight back in the face of the sanctions, given the widespread media attention as the Sandusky scandal unfolded. Penn State challenging the sanctions, the governor said, would look bad for a university that had already fought several public relations crises.

“The NCAA knew that the high-profile and well-deserved public vilification of the university officials who allegedly failed to report the Sandusky (o)ffenses had placed Penn State in a position where resistance to any sanction, from any source, would be futile and would negate Penn State’s effort to rebuild its public image,” the suit said.

Corbett said the NCAA made up its own rules by saying Penn State violated “vague principles” of “institutional integrity,” “appropriate and responsible conduct,” and “fundamental notions of individual integrity.” The governor said those principles are not related to the NCAA’s mission of promoting fairness and integrity in college athletics.

And there was no word of the rules Penn State violated, Corbett said, and Emmert and his fellow NCAA leaders were barred from imposing sanctions. That was the job of the committee on infractions, Corbett said.

“In order to avert these difficult challenges, Dr. Emmert and the presidents and chancellors found a convenient path around the NCAA’s due process protections,” the suit said. “They simply informed Penn State what the punishments would be and threatened that if Penn State did not waive its right to due process and accept the sanctions offered, the NCAA would impose the ‘death penalty’ for four years.”