Penn State

Sen. Jake Corman: No ‘culture problem’ at PSU; trustee reform should start with university

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“The NCAA is a tough nut to deal with,” said state Sen. Jake Corman, R-Benner Township.

He sat down with the Centre Daily Times editorial board Wednesday, three days after the NCAA dropped the rope in its lawsuit with him on the same day it repealed the historic sanctions against Penn State.

Corman, a Penn State alumnus who grew up in the university’s backyard, talked about the volatile events of the week, his part in some and his perspective on others.

He said he thinks the NCAA stopped its opposition to the suit Corman filed in January 2013 because, after the Commonwealth Court upheld the validity of the state’s Endowment Act, which would keep the $60 million in fine money in Pennsylvania, the only thing left to litigate was the legality of the consent decree, the document Penn State signed accepting the NCAA punishment.

“The troubling part of the consent decree that has been so hard for people in the community to deal with is it went to the heart of who we are,” Corman said. “It’s that mantra, ‘Success with Honor.’... It was adopted by the community, our philosophy of life.”

After the court determined the Endowment Act was constitutional, Corman said, there were attempts to settle the lawsuit but no agreement on terms. The NCAA, he said, wouldn’t budge on sanctions other than turning over the fine money; Corman, in return, already had a court ruling saying that money would stay in Pennsylvania, so it didn’t seem like much of an offer.

“I think a trial would have been healthy,” Corman said. “I don’t know if we would have won, but I’m a fan of due process.”

A ruling on the NCAA’s motion to dismiss the suit was expected Monday, but Corman said he has still not received word on disposition in the case.

He also weighed in on proposals for restructuring of the Penn State board of trustees. The Senate has legislation on deck that would reduce the number from 32 to just 23, including eight elected alumni and five gubernatorial appointments.

Corman isn’t sold on that idea.

“I’m not particularly thrilled at having 253 legislators and the governor decide the size of the board of trustees of Penn State University,” he said. Instead, he would like the university to “take a good hard look” at the board and come back with its own ideas.

“I think a smaller board is probably better,” he said.

Corman has a complicated relationship with the university. Like most alumni, he frequently says “we” when talking about his alma mater, even when on the opposite side of an issue.

“Penn State sort of took the corporate mentality” as the Jerry Sandusky scandal unfolded, he said. “Gotta save the corporation, no matter who we throw out of the boat,” he said.

“You could say they did, they saved the program. ... But this isn’t a corporation. It’s full of people who spent their lives as part of this thing.”

That doesn’t mean he doesn’t empathize with those making decisions in a bad situation. When asked what he would have done in then-President Rodney Erickson’s shoes, he responds judiciously.

“He was faced with a very difficult situation,” Corman said. He thinks the Freeh report was mishandled but said “that’s easy for me to say now.”

So does he think Penn State made epic changes in recent years to merit parole on its sentence?

“I take offense to the comment from (NCAA President) Mark Emmert that we had a culture problem,” Corman said, claiming the university never had a “win-at-all-costs attitude” and pointing to the academic success of Penn State athletes.

“What (Joe) Paterno tried to teach us was that the success of football could build a better university.”