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updated 1/8/2013 9:45:54 PM ET 2013-01-09T02:45:54

Political analyst Michael Smerconish and author Buzz Bissinger join Hardball to talk about the new lawsuit over the NCAA’s punishment against Penn State.

From the gridiron to the courthouse, the battle over Penn State football continues. Governor Tom Corbett is suing the NCAA over sanctions handed down to the school following a sex abuse scandal that rocked State College last year. In June, former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts of child sex abuse involving 10 boys over a 15-year span.  He was sentenced to a minimum of 30 years in prison.

Sandusky wasn’t the only one punished for his crimes. The Penn State football program was sanctioned with a $60 million fine, a 4-year bowl game ban, wins from 1998 through 2011 vacated, and a reduction in scholarships.

It wasn’t what is known as a “death sentence” in college athletics…but it may as well have been.  At the time, neither the school nor Governor Corbett objected to the NCAA’s move.  But now, the governor says the NCAA “piled on” the program with its sanctions and the community is suffering unnecessarily.

“These sanctions are an attack on the past, present and future students at Penn State [and] the citizens of our commonwealth,” Corbett said last month.  “As governor of this commonwealth I cannot and will not stand by and let it happen without a fight.”

The NCAA responded to the lawsuit with a statement which read in part:

“Not only does this forthcoming lawsuit appear to be without merit, it is an affront to all of the victims in this tragedy–lives that were destroyed by the criminal actions of Jerry Sandusky. While the innocence that was stolen can never be restored, State has accepted the consequences for its role and the role of its employees and is moving forward.”

Penn State has said it had no role in the lawsuit.

The Republican governor is up for re-election in 2014 and a new Public Policy Poll has him with just a 38% approval rating.  Voters disapprove of how Corbett handled the Penn State scandal as the state’s attorney general by nearly a two-to-one margin. But 52% of those polled back his decision to file a lawsuit against the NCAA.

Radio talk show host Michael Smerconish tells Hardball’s Chris Matthews that Corbett is taking a beating in the polls not because of his performance as governor, but because of his early role in the Sandusky investigation.

“I think one of the reasons that he’s taken such a hurt is that people look at him and wonder why as attorney general it took so long for him to move on Sandusky,” says Smerconish.

“We’re not going to get into the politics of this. I’m here for one reason. I believe this to be the right thing to do on behalf of the students who have been through this institution, who are here now and who will be coming here in the future,” Corbett said last month.

Not about politics?  Not the case, says Daily Beast columnist Buzz Bissinger.

“He clearly did this to appeal to the Penn State base and community and alums which are a huge part of the state because he may be in trouble for re-election,” says Bissinger.  “It’s one of the most transparent political acts I’ve ever seen and really, really despicable.”

Video: Pa. gov. files lawsuit against NCAA for Penn State sanctions

  1. Closed captioning of: Pa. gov. files lawsuit against NCAA for Penn State sanctions

    >>> we're back. the college football season has come to an end but in pennsylvania the battle is just beginning. republican governor tom corbett is suing the ncaa over the sanctions it handed penn state following a sex abuse scandal that rocked that place. in june former assistant coach jerry sandusky was convicted of 45 counts of child sex abuse involving ten boys over a 15-year span. penn state sanctions included a $60 million fine, a four-year bowl game bans, wins from 1998 through 2011 being vacated and a reduction in scholarships. punishments neither the school or governor objected to at the time. now the governor says the ncaa has piled on and the penn state community is suffering unnecessarily. let's watch the governor.

    >> i believe the ncaa took actions and piled on choosing to levy in their words unprecedented sanctions against penn state and its football program. these sanctions are an attack on the past, present, and future students of penn state . the citizens of our commonwealth and our economy. as governor of this commonwealth i cannot and will not stand by and let it happen without a fight.

    >> well, corbett has been under the spotlight for his role in this scandal because he was the commonwealth's attorney general when the state began investigating sandusky . the incoming attorney general, democrat kathleen cane, campaigned on a promise to find out why the case dragged on for so long. michael smerconish is an expert on this issue. he's the nationally syndicated radio host and an msnbc political analyst and the great buzz bissinger is a best-selling author and columnist for the daily beast . i'm going to have to start with our guest, michael. let's go to buzz on this. what is going on here? i'm looking at all the numbers. we don't have to do -- corbett has been in trouble politically. the state people -- the vote he is don't like the way he's the way he's handled matters. suddenly they're coming to his support saying what a great job he's doing in fighting these sanctions against penn state . is this just sheer politics or what?

    >> i mean, i think it's total politics . i mean, i think the suit is absurd. many legal scholars have said it's completely absurd and has no standing. if it was fully litigated, the sanctions would be over against penn state . i live in pennsylvania. i don't want my money wasted on this thing. he clearly did this to appeal to the penn state base and community and alums which are a huge part of the state. because he may be in trouble for re-election. it's one of the most transparent political acts i've ever seen and really, really despicable. it means he didn't get it. it also means penn state didn't get it. they're a silent partner in this. this was about the culture of football . it was a hideous criminal act . to say it's not -- football has nothing to do with it, it's a disgrace.

    >> in my religion, it's good to suffer some penance in admission of guilt. then you move on. when you don't accept punishment for it or penance for it, it stays with you. why doesn't penn state want to get this over with, take their punishment and penalty and get in the huddle and figure out the future? why do they want to go back at this thing when everybody knows they were guilty?

    >> well, i think penn state probably does want to continue on and get this behind them. and i think it needs to be pointed out this is governor corbett acting independent of penn state . listen, chris. i share the skepticism of buzz bissinger about the acts. he has taken a thumping in the poles personally. this litigation might be popular with litigations. one of the reason he's taken such a hurt is people wonder why as an attorney general it took him so long to move on sandusky . why when he had one credible reporter meaning a child who was then founded in his complaints. why didn't they slap the cuffs on sandusky ? but i have to say, i don't like that ncaa sanction. i think it was too stiff of a sanction on the football program. something with which i know buzz disagrees.

    >> what about this case dealing with rape of a young boy . what do you do when you find that was covered up?

    >> you prosecute those who participated. and the criminal process one at a time is dealing with these wrong doers. sandusky is away for life. he'll never come out. paterno has passed on. and three more guys are about to have their day in court. i think that the criminal process is working.

    >> well, buzz, here's the problem. everybody watches. that's why we have criminal sanctions. not just to punish the guilty. not just to avenge a victim. although that's part of it. but to teach a lesson. what's the lesson here if penn state gets off scot-free and the governor who was not pushing the case hard enough perhaps -- that's open to interruption -- is the one that lets them go free. forget it efr happened.

    >> i agree with you. there should be penance. there should be punishment. we could argue this all day long. i don't think there's any doubt this went to the heart of the culture of football . this was a 15-year coverup that involved a well respected assistant coach who coached the defense. it took forever. they gave him every benefit of the doubt . they worried much more about him than the actual victims. this is the essence of the culture of football . corbett knows about the culture of football . all he talks about is how important it is in the suit. if these sanctions are lifted, then this thing is a mockery. this is one of the times i think the ncaa acted quickly and responsibly. penn state should feel we're lucky we didn't get the death penalty . fans could still go to the games. if they play in a bowl game , state college is not going to get the money from that. and to take it away, for corbett to waste his time, it's not going anywhere. maybe he wants the 60 million bucks to stay in the state. but i think this was a disgrace.

    >> last thought, michael. what's going to happen with this? is this going to save corbett or not? your thoughts?

    >> you can't beat somebody with nobody. it remains to be seen who emerges to run against him in next year's election. i would respond to buzz and say a lot of people got hurt in this sanction that played no role whatsoever in the scandal that took place. who relies on the trade. when the football program is diminished, his business goes down. that's not right.

    >> the trouble with that line of thinking is they can justify a lot. thank you, i respect the thinking of the little guy there. thank you so much. we'll be right back. and thank you buzz bissinger . you're watching "hardball,"

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