Pennsylvania State University may have partially grasped the seriousness of the Jerry Sandusky scandal but Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett certainly hasn't. His antitrust suit against the NCAA for the sanctions resulting from the institution's failure to act on available information about the sexual abuse of minors makes that abundantly clear.
Corbett's apparent lack of sensitivity to the seriousness of this horrific story ranks him among the best recent examples of morally corrupt politicians. A few days following Corbett's action, the university itself punctuated the institution's continuing overemphasis on its premiere football program by announcing that it would pay its head coach $3.6 million annually, thanks partially to $1.3 million from a big-time donor.
As anyone who can read knows, Penn State's fallen idol, the late coach Joe Paterno; its president, and several other officials have been accused of putting the football money machine ahead of the welfare of young victims of former Paterno assistant Sandusky's almost blatant perversion for nearly 14 years. They allegedly ignored and conspired in an inexcusable dereliction of responsibility and children suffered.
As a result, Paterno is now held in disdain by much of America except in State College, Pa.; Sandusky is serving what probably will be the rest of his life in prison; the Penn State president was fired; and two top officials are facing criminal trials.
For these transgressions, probably the worst in the history of intercollegiate athletics, the school's football program was fined $60 million, banned from postseason play and required to give up a number of scholarships. It signed an agreement that it would not sue the NCAA, an amalgam of colleges and universities that has its own soiled reputation for unevenness -- slapping wrists of some big winners and bludgeoning others of lesser success for similar offenses. The penalties were severe but hardly enough in this case.
What clearly should have been imposed was a four-year ban on playing football. The so-called "death penalty" has been handed out on occasion for activities that were serious but far less horrendous than these. It has been reported that the school had its choice between the current penalties and the dramatic suspension of activity altogether. I felt at the time that it should not have been given that choice. That feeling has been intensified by Corbett's almost incredible decision to challenge the NCAA's right to administer any sanction.
The governor's ill-conceived action is not only an affront to decency but also to Sandusky's victims who bravely stood up in court and recounted his abuses in detail.
Almost as disturbing is the exorbitant pay to the football coach, which says volumes about the institution's own insensitivity to a program that it should have been deemphasizing as a sign of respect for those who have suffered. Coach Bill O'Brien did such a good job under the circumstances, winning eight games and losing only four, that he was considered for an NFL job. He decided to stay put. Considering what Penn State shelled out to keep him, it probably wasn't a difficult decision.
Penn State is an honored institution of higher learning. On the other hand it permitted Paterno to stay on as coach, giving him godlike stature on campus long after it was merited. In so doing, it lost sight of what schools of this importance are supposed to be.
Corbett's suit is rooted in hypocrisy. He was Pennsylvania's attorney general when the first indications of Sandusky's activities were suspected and he has been a trustee of the university. This is yet another example of what sort of misguided figures we elect, proving that the politics of democracy is a most unexacting science.
The episode once again demonstrates that the driving force behind college athletics at the upper levels has little to do with advancing education. With only a few exceptions, it's just about money.
(Dan Thomasson is former editor of Scripps Howard News Service.)