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The Four Faces of Tom

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Anyone trying to figure out what Gov. Corbett was up to this week in filing a suit against the NCAA and the sanctions it imposed on Penn State should go to Netflix and rent the 1957 movie The Three Faces of Eve.

It stars Joanne Woodward in an Oscar-winning role as a women suffering from multiple personality disorder.  Meek housewife one moment, vixen and vamp the next, poor Eve lapses from one personality to another with such frequency it is enough to drive her crazy.  And it does.

Eve had three personalities.  When it comes to Penn State, Corbett has four.

One is Prosecutor Tom.  As Attorney General, he initiated the investigation into sex crimes that led to the November 2011 indictment of former Penn State Defensive Coach Jerry Sandusky and two Penn State officials -- VP Gary Schultz and Athletic Director Tim Curley.  Sandusky was charged with numerous rapes involving boys, with some of the acts taking place at the school's football facility.  Schultz and Curley were charged with failing to report allegations of Sandusky's child abuse, plus perjury before the grand jury.  (On Nov. 1, 2012, former Penn State President Graham Spanier was added to the list of those indicted.)

Two is Penn State Trustee Tom.  After the bombshell of the indictment dropped and the NCAA felt moved to act, it gave Penn State a two-option play: either accept sanctions, including a $60 million fine, or face the "death penalty" -- a total ban from participation in collegiate football for five years.

Corbett urged his fellow trustees to accept the deal.  It was a recognition that what happened at Penn State wasn't simply a Sandusky problem or a Joe Paterno problem, it was a university problem.  Its culture -- or, if you prefer, its cult -- of football had led it astray, to the lasting regret of Sandusky's victims and their families.

Three is Penn State Defender Tom. This Tom took the podium this week to announce that the state was suing the NCAA in federal court, alleging it overstepped its bounds and violated its own procedures in imposing penalties on the school.

The NCAA forced the university to endure "harsh, unjustified and unprecedented punishments" that brought harm to innocent students, athletes and others, including the state of Pennsylvania and communities in Central Pennsylvania dependent on the business generated by the Penn State "brand," as the suit puts it.

So, you may ask, how can Tom Corbett initiate the investigation that led to the Penn State scandal, urge fellow trustees to accept the sanctions sought by the NCAA and then sue the NCAA for imposing sanctions?

It defies logic.  But, then why not?  What's logic among friends?

To understand it, you have to look at the fourth Tom Corbett.  Tom the politician.  He is dominating all the other Toms at this point.

Why? Political Tom is under threat.  His poll numbers are sagging.  His chances of winning re-election in 2014 are weak.  Political Tom understands the geopolitics of Pennsylvania. Like ancient Gaul, it is divided into three parts:  western Pennsylvania, which is his home base; southeastern Pennsylvania, where 42 percent of the state's voters live; and central Pennsylvania, the Republican heartland.

As of now, Corbett is weak in the Philadelphia media market.  In 2014, he will get crushed in Philadelphia, and he could easily lose the Philly suburbs.  (The other counties in the market are Berks, Lehigh and Northampton Counties, which have been trending Democratic.)

This means he must, must, must win in central Pennsylvania.

But, Prosecutor Tom and Trustee Tom have inflicted serious damage on Political Tom in this area of the state. 

I am not a big fan of Tom Corbett, to put it mildly, but I do think he handled the Penn State case honorably and well.  Admittedly, he was cautious, but in the end he did the right thing.

In central Pennsylvania, though, Penn State is not simply an institution with a football program, it is a way of life. For Corbett to pierce its pristine image, for him to persecute Joe Pa, for him to attack the very core of the university's being was tantamount to treason in the eyes of the Penn  State faithful.

In short, this Republican governor's base is pissed at him.

He cannot go into 2014 with them pissed.  He has to do something to ameliorate this liability.  Hence, the NCAA suit.

Ostensibly, this is an antitrust case, but if you read the suit it dwells little on that issue.  In fact, there is little legalese in it. It is more of a speech, a polemic against the NCAA, which says, in so many words, that (a) the NCAA is a craven tool of "sports as a money-maker" (stipulated); the NCAA is hypocritical (stipulated); the NCAA was not seeking justice.  It was seeking to take a major force within Division I and kneecap it so other Division I schools could make more money at Penn State's expense (not at all stipulated).

It's hard to overturn what amounts to a consent degree between a university with a football program and the governing body of collegiate sports. Penn State's trustees (at the urging of Trustee Tom) agreed to these sanctions. To challenge the right of the NCAA to impose them looks like a losing cause.

As weak as it is legally, though, it may serve its purpose, which is to save all the Toms so they can remain as Governor Tom.

-- Tom Ferrick

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