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Keith Strudler - Pennsylvania v. NCAA

It seems the topic of the hour is government spending.  So I’ll continue that dialogue, at least as it pertains to the state of Pennsylvania.  The current governor of that state Tom Corbett is angry about $60 million of state funds that are scheduled to be spent largely out of state.  It’s a result of the penalty levied by the NCAA on Penn State for its part in the recent child abuse scandal in its athletics department.

As part of that deal, which was agreed upon by the university and its then brand new president Rodney Erikson, Penn State would pay $60 million to the NCAA to finance grants to prevent child abuse nationwide.  The money goes in $12 million annual installments, the first of which was recently paid by the university.  And since Penn State is a public institution, the money effectively comes from the state.  But given the nearly $60 million in yearly revenues from football, a vast majority profit, a $12 million annual settlement was a pretty small sum to keep from a potential death penalty for the program.

Governor Corbett doesn’t see it that way. That’s why he’s filed a lawsuit against the NCAA for the school’s sanctions, which include this cash settlement, a four-year bowl ban and some football scholarships.  The lawsuit comes as several Pennsylvania elected officials have complained that any of this 60 million would be spent in other states.  One, congressman Charlie Dent, demanded the NCAA spend the entire amount on Pennsylvania state programs against child abuse.  Dent said the current settlement goes against the interests of the taxpayers of the state of Pennsylvania, which I suppose is probably true.  We only assume this constitutes the heart and soul of the Governor’s lawsuit.  And if the thought of a state government caught in legal fight against the NCAA gives you bureaucratic nightmares, you’re not alone.  It’s like watching an argument between Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian – there’s no winner here.

So the general premise of the grievance is that Pennsylvania tax dollars shouldn’t go to fund programs in Maine, and Texas, and wherever else.  I can buy that.  The problem is that we’re only looking at the tip of the iceberg.  The reality is that the state of Pennsylvania’s guilt and acquiescence lie far under the surface.

See, a long time ago, long before Jerry Sandusky came to trial and even before recently deceased head coach Joe Paterno rose to power, Penn State and similar state universities began the gamble that is major Division I athletics, which for all practical purposes is football and to a slightly lesser degree men’s basketball.  That’s a gamble played with state tax dollars – money that builds stadiums, pays coaching salaries, exit fees from conferences, and so on.  And not all that money stays in state, like the athletic scholarships that go largely to out of state kids or the pay-off games to out of state schools for easy home wins, like that blowout against Indiana State last year.  They gamble state taxpayers’ money in the promise of two things – cash profits and reputation building for the university, which should in turn bring in more cash and better students.  And until relatively recently, the gamble’s paid off.

But as with most cases of gambling, dealing in sometimes means working with unsavory character and joining a rough crowd.  That’s certainly the case for Penn State, which it seems played fast and loose for school that pretended otherwise.  And now that the bill’s come to pay, like it always does because the house always wins, now the Governor doesn’t like the rules.  And let’s not forget, the NCAA is simply made up of its members – that means Penn State as well.

There is an answer to this.  It’s stop gambling the state’s money.  Stop turning state colleges into professional sports teams under the brand of higher learning.  Play club style sports where real college students plan their own games and drive vans to play local schools on grass fields.  And then you won’t have to worry about an overarching parent organization fining you for money you don’t have or a dictatorial coach that hides a criminal act to protect a multimillion-dollar business.

But of course, this won’t happen.  Which is why Governor Corbett should shut up and pay up.   Cause if there’s anything you can’t stand in sports and gambling, it’s a sore loser.

Keith Strudler is chair of the communication department at Marist College and director for the Marist College Center for Sports Communication.