Thursday, January 3, 2013

On Tom Corbett, the NCAA lawsuit and Bill O'Brien

What took the Pennsylvania Governor so long to challenge the NCAA? And what consequences could it have for Penn State and Bill O'Brien?

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, for all his faults as a human being, is a genius at redirecting everyone's focus away from his own egregious misdeeds.

And with his bombshell lawsuit against the NCAA announced Wednesday, Corbett has exercised another master stroke to save his own booty.

The bug is staying one step ahead of the shoe.

If this lawsuit wasn't the product of Corbett - whose gift for survival rivals Keith Richards - then all Penn Staters could wrap their arms around it.

This lawsuit rightly and deftly shreds the NCAA's pathetic and pernicious argument for brutally sanctioning Penn State into confetti. No impartial, rational judge could see otherwise.

But, but, but ... that's not the main purpose of the suit.

A modern politician to his core in the very worst way, Corbett's every action is designed to benefit Corbett. With this lawsuit, he's currying favor with legions of Penn Staters who loathe him for failing to pursue Sandusky and then throwing Joe Paterno under the proverbial bus.

When the Sandusky scandal erupted back in Nov. 2011, there was no investigation into what Paterno did or did not do, no conversation with Paterno - nothing. The greatest coach/philanthropist/leader/social beacon of our time was shockingly and unceremoniously fired just days after the prosecution released its grand jury presentment, which did not charge Paterno and offered only the prosecution's take on things.

Gov. Corbett, suddenly a driving-force PSU Board of Trustees member, was the one who aimed at Paterno and pulled the trigger.

And Penn Staters will never forget.

Why did Corbett, supported by his cartel of PSU BOT campaign donors, do this? The simple and logical conclusion is because Corbett, as Attorney General a few years earlier, had allowed the Sandusky sexual abuse accusation to sit, uninvestigated, for the final 1.5 years of his tenure as AG. (Save for the token assignment of a narcotics agent - yes, a narcotics agent - to the matter, which accomplished exactly nothing.)

When the scandal broke and Sandusky was exposed as a serial child sex abuser, surely someone in the media would soon take note of this alarming fact, of the negligence by Corbett. And maybe also notice the hefty contributions to Corbett's election campaigns from Second Mile board members and their affiliates (you know the Second Mile - it's the place where Sandusky accessed every one of his victims for more than two decades) reportedly in excess of $640,000, and ...

You get the picture.

So, as someone once said in reference to Corbett's ability to redirect attention on a large scale, when the wolves are gaining, it's time to toss a baby from the sled.

Timing is everything with regard to Corbett's perverse genius. He knew just when to throw Paterno from the sled, and he knows just when the wolves are gaining on him again.

Buoyed by a campaign promise to aggressively investigate Corbett's inaction re Sandusky, Kathleen Kane handily won the Attorney General election in November.

Kane takes office Jan. 15. On Jan. 2, Corbett threw NCAA president Mark Emmert - one of the few people hated by Penn Staters as much as Corbett - from the sled.

About 90% of the lawsuit is dead solid perfect, and the inclusion of Emmert's words from his stint as LSU chancellor is a particularly clever touch. (The other 10% is a little whiny.)

The lawsuit captures the essence of the collective complaints and arguments voiced by bloggers, websites, commenters and the like against the NCAA sanctions for the past six months. Some in the national media, notably Lenn Robbins of the New York Post, also were highly critical of Emmert and the NCAA's actions. However, most just couldn't stop talking about Paterno, and misrepresenting Paterno's actions, long enough to notice how the NCAA egregiously violated its own bylaws to hammer Penn State.

Which begs the question: Where has this lawsuit been for the past six months? This should have been submitted in late July, right after Emmert's sanctimonious press conference.

While the 43-page filing contains a level of depth and detail that could not have been created in a week, the general premise could have been laid out in a couple of days. A team of lawyers could have completed the final product in 2-3 weeks.

Except that back in July, Kathleen Kane wasn't about to investigate Corbett.

Now? Time for The Big Distraction, especially one that sucks up to Penn State.

Corbett, popularity waning, new Attorney General gaining, facing a future of inquisition, scorn and perhaps worse, tossed the portliest kid from the sled: Emmert.

Corbett knows the media is almost pathologically incapable of following major dual stories simultaneously. Invariably, one gets shoved aside. He also knows that support for Kane's investigation of him could weaken if his NCAA lawsuit generates momentum.

He also can dangle the lawsuit like a threat: I don't have to follow through on this lawsuit, you know, if I'm preoccupied by having to defend my inaction ...

Maybe that's an incredibly cynical point of view, but the Tom Corbetts of the world force such perspectives.

But who knows, maybe Corbett takes down Emmert and his phony cohorts at the NCAA for their bogus actions. And just then, when Kane is closing in on him, Corbett looks for another baby to throw from the sled ... and finds Louis Freeh and his fraudulent report?

How delicious would that be?

This may-the-scumbags-devour-each-other banter aside, this lawsuit, as correct and appropriate as it might be, isn't automatically a good development for Penn State, or Penn State football.

First of all, by the time the lawsuit gets through the legal system, the sanction years might be over. At best, Penn State might get a chunk of its $60 million back. But even that will be a tricky endeavor, considering the fine is earmarked for child abuse organizations, not just sitting in NCAA coffers.

Also, it is another major national media focal point for a school starved to be out of the media glare for awhile with regard to anything connected to Sandusky. This stuff can wear people out, people such as ... the head football coach.

Everyone loves Bill O'Brien, incredible as he has been, but even he can only take so much. He needs the entire situation to stabilize. He needs to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and he needs that light to stop flickering and moving. He can't compete if the rules of the game keep changing and his situation is eternally chaotic. He needs to have faith in the PSU leadership. This development - Corbett's lawsuit - does not achieve these ends. And it comes right at the time when so many NFL teams are seeking a hot young coach.

O'Brien, for his part, played the game to perfection this week. He was never leaving Penn State, despite what news reports said about dalliances with the Browns and Eagles, and interest from the Chargers and Cardinals.

In a matter of days, O'Brien and his agent deftly parlayed his spectacular first season in Happy Valley and interest from multiple NFL teams into an intense fear in Nittany Nation that he might leave. This allowed O'Brien to reportedly leverage structural and personnel concessions from PSU, raises for his assistant coaches and a tidy $1.3 million bonus for himself.

Despite the huge buyout in O'Brien's PSU contract, he'll likely never have more clout at Penn State than right now. So he played his cards to create a better situation, as he sees it. We'll find out eventually what sort of structural and personnel changes are forthcoming, but based on everything we know about O'Brien so far, it will be an upgrade for PSU.

In all likelihood, this also locks in O'Brien for another two seasons or more. The NFL won't keep beckoning each year for an annual tease-and-denial, and PSU won't just keep forking over big concessions.

O'Brien's power play also means he now will be contending with expectations and additional pressure, sanctions be damned. The situation will fluctuate as time marches on, it always does. As Philip Seymour Hoffman's character keeps repeating to Tom Hanks' at the end of Charlie Wilson's War, "We'll see."

In the meantime, may Corbett's lawsuit bring the NCAA to its knees, and may the wolves keep gaining on him.

For more insight, analysis and opinions about Penn State football, check RumblingsFromBeaverStadium.blogspot.comor follow Pete Young on Twitter @AllPSUfootball.

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