If there was ever any pretense that big-time college football was more about athletic excellence than about money, the governor of Pennsylvania has brought the question into stark reality.
Gov. Tom Corbett, in a startling turnaround, is challenging the fines and sanctions the National Collegiate Athletic Association levied against Penn State after the child sexual abuse scandal there. Corbett—whom critics suggest was not aggressive enough in investigating sexual assault cases at Penn State when Corbett was attorney general—had it right when former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted and sent to prison for sexual abuse of boys. Said Corbett:
We have taken a monster off the streets, and while we will never be able to repair the injury done to these children, we must repair the damage to this university. Part of that corrective process is to accept the serious penalties imposed today by the NCAA on Penn State University and its football program.
And the penalties were indeed serious: $60 million in fines, a four-year ban on participating in bowl games, and the erasure of 112 games won by the late and legendary coach Joe Paterno, who was found to have taken insufficient action to protect the children. Corbett is now suing to undo the penalties, calling them "harsh" and "unprecedented." The sanctions are indeed both of those things. So is the physical and emotional damage to the children Sandusky abused.
Americans like to make people pay when something goes wrong, be it a medical tragedy, an accident, or a crime. And sometimes, those efforts are no more than an understandable but misguided effort to make more people pay for something one person did, either on purpose or by accident. Child sexual abuse is different. The perpetrators are sick, to be sure (and that doesn't mean they shouldn't be held responsible). The people who protected Sandusky so they could protect the lucrative and famous football program are arguably worse, since they don't have their own mental defects to blame. It's only greed.
True, the fans and the players will be hurt because of the sanctions, even though they themselves were not responsible. But that's true with any kind of sanctions, be they against the former Yugoslavia or Iran or a college. That's the point—to add public pressure onto the people who were responsible to make sure the bad behavior doesn't happen again.
Corbett may be trying to shore up his own reputation, or he may be trying to protect part of Pennsylvania's economy. A recent poll shows that a bare majority of Pennsylvanians approve of Corbett's lawsuit (although a majority of those who do not call themselves Penn State fans do not back the idea). But this isn't about protecting football scholarships or ticket-holders or corporate sponsors. It's about protecting children. And on that, Penn State failed miserably.