Wednesday, February 6

Is Corbett's Budget the "Deal" that Brought Down Spanier?

For the third consecutive year - post Spanier - Tom Corbett has kept PSU's budget allotment level at $279 million.  Quite a contrast to the $165 million in cuts proposed when Spanier was in charge.

Ray Blehar

The budget battle between Tom Corbett and Graham Spanier was played out in the press in the spring of 2011, with Spanier eventually getting the upper hand and making some smart moves to find efficiencies in PSU budget to soften the blow of the eventual $30 million in cuts.

Spanier was the winner, and Corbett the loser in that fight.

That didn't sit well with Corbett.

The Governor recently admitted that his comment "remember the children" was directed at Spanier's failures, not Paterno's.  In other words, he wanted Spanier to be fired.

He got what he wanted.

However, when you review the PSU Board of Trustees actions, or lack thereof, in the whole Sandusky matter, it makes you wonder if Corbett had cut a deal with the Board.

The deal:  PSU fires Spanier and takes the blame for the state's failure to identify Sandusky as a child molester back in 1998 in exchange for level budgets while he remains in office.

One board member I spoke with (not Anthony Lubrano) agreed that the deal sounded plausible.

The acceptance of the sanctions and $60 million in fines - which equates to $15 million per year - is a drop in the bucket compared to what Corbett could do to PSU's budget.  With the recent proposals of Pennsylvania legislators requesting that the NCAA fines be put toward programs in Pennsylvania, the state is levying a defacto budget cut on Penn State to pay for child protection programs.

At the same time, PSU "profits" from the fines by making the Athletic Department pay for them through an interest bearing loan from the University.  In addition, the Board has become more powerful by eliminating Spanier and installing a puppet, Rodney Erickson, as the new President.

The Not So Invisible Hand of Tom Corbett

In reviewing the actions of the Board over the last year, one really has to wonder if Tom Corbett was the not so invisible hand creating the crisis and guiding Board's actions.  To wit:

  • Corbett's hand-picked AG, Linda Kelly, leaked the error-filled grand jury presentment.
  • The BOT panicked in response, although members were briefed about the grand jury in May 2011.
  • The Board, despite having former Merck general counsel, Kenneth Frazier as one of its members, performed no legal review of the charges and accepted the presentment as the facts of the case.
  • Corbett worked the phones with Board Co-chair John Surma in advance of the Nov. 9 press conference.
  • Corbett participated in the conference call and told the Board to "remember the children" right before the vote to terminate Paterno.
  • The Board completely overlooked the employment status of Mike McQueary, waiting until McQueary received death threats before deciding to place him on administrative leave.
  • The Board announced the formation of the Special Investigations Task Force to investigate the Sandusky matter.
  • Corbett identified and recommended Louis Freeh to lead the investigation.
  • The Special Investigative Task Force, lead by Kenneth Frazier and Ron Tomalis, selected Freeh's team to conduct the investigation without interviewing Louis Freeh.   Freeh, Sporkin, and Sullivan (FSS)  was a new firm with no track record.
  • Corbett stated he was happy with the selection of Louis Freeh because Freeh understood the grand jury process and would work well with the AG.  Corbett also stated he was  impressed with Kenneth Frazier's actions as head of the Special Investigations Task Force.
  • The Special Investigations Task Force announced it would not review the Freeh Report prior to its release and permitted Freeh to hold a press conference to announce the investigation's findings.
  • The Board (Peetz and Frazier) made public statements confirming the Freeh Report findings and placing blame for the scandal on Spanier, Paterno, Curley, and Schultz.
  • Tom Corbett held a press conference and confirmed that top PSU officials were at fault.
  • The Board refused to vote on formally accepting the Freeh Report's findings.
  • PSU President Erickson agreed to a non-appealable consent decree and accepted sanctions from the NCAA without consulting the Board.
  • Erickson decided to remove the Paterno statue.
  • The Board enlisted new PSU Football Coach, Bill O'Brien to support the "moving forward" campaign with the hope that the "football culture" that is ingrained in PSU alumni would cause them to follow the coaches lead.
  • The Board implemented a ONE TEAM - MOVING FORWARD campaign through the football program in order to "brand" the opponents of the effort as "dissidents" 

Checkers, Not Chess

Despite all of the manuevering, Tom Corbett is better suited for checkers than he is chess.  Throughout this scandal, Corbett only thought about his next move and not moves three, four, or five steps ahead.

The firing of Spanier left a power vacuum at Penn State that remains today.  There is no one in a leadership position at the University that can take command of a situation and control the narrative.  As a result, the University was adrift with occasional lame attempts by the Board to "reach out" to alumni.  

Corbett (and the Board) didn't anticipate the backlash from the PSU alumni and supporters over the ham-handedness of Paterno's dismissal, their non-response to the Freeh Report, the acceptance of unwarranted sanctions on the Athletic Department, and their own arrogance.

That backlash was exhibited by Kathleen Kane's landslide victory in the Attorney General race and the further investigation -- that Corbett and the Board tried to avert with their "moving forward" campaign -- is now underway.

Kathleen Kane stated, "We'll leave no stone unturned and we'll do it in a timely manner."

What seemed like a great deal for Corbett and the Board back in November 2011 is going to turn into a raw deal in short order.

This should be fun to watch.


  1. Well done. as always. Ready to sit back and watch them squirm. Thanks again for all you do.

  2. A comment on Corbett's sophistication. It is very likely that Sandusky's acts were well hidden from everyone, as is frequently the case with child molesters. And therefore even the state's shortcomings in investigating him can be understood. But the state and Corbett took the approach of the four year old "helping" to keep his brother under the bed hidden from his parents - "don't loook under the bed because he's not there". In the state's case it was - "don't look at us, we didn't do anything wrong. Look at all these other people". Which eventually brought the focus back to the state. Sandusky could have been prosecuted and convicted without blaming anyone.