The Penn State scandal was, without a doubt, one of the most important stories of 2012; the case certainly provided firms representing the university with one of their toughest PR challenges.
We thought the case had more or less resolved itself, but this week brought some surprising news: Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett–a rising political star–filed a lawsuit against the NCAA, calling its sanctions against the school and the Nittany Lions “arbitrary” and “unfair” and claiming that the association’s decision to render such a harsh judgment was nothing but a PR move designed to promote and enhance its own authority.
Publicity addicts accusing others of shameless self-promotion? Well, we never!
Opinions on the merits of Corbett’s suit vary widely. In a Daily Beast op-ed, Friday Night Lights author Buzz Bissinger calls the governor “a disgrace” and writes that this suit is his “most shameless act yet.”
Penn State already accepted the NCAA’s admittedly harsh punishment without question, and the fact that Corbett named himself as the plaintiff makes his goal of self-promotion look even more blatant. But, as Bissinger notes, the school is a public institution that receives funding from the state of Pennsylvania–and Corbett is an “influential” member of its board. So maybe the case is more complicated than it looks; Bissinger believes that Penn State officials encouraged Corbett to file the suit on their behalf.
Sports blog Deadspin, on the other hand, believes that the case is legitimate because it “isn’t about Sandusky“: Penn State was “forced into accepting the consent decree” with none of the usual NCAA “kangaroo court” proceedings because the association was under considerable public pressure to render a judgment–and these sanctions will greatly affect business crucial to the state of Pennsylvania.
Finally, the NCAA attributed the school’s horrific PR fail to a “culture” that values football above all other things–including the safety of children and the punishment of those who violate their trust. Deadspin’s issue? The NCAA contributes directly to this culture by condoning and encouraging related promotional deals for college teams.
What do we think, PR pros? Is this latest lawsuit a completely unnecessary act of self-promotion? Should Corbett let sleeping dogs lie? Or does he have a point in accusing the NCAA of over-reacting to protect its own reputation?