Correction: An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly stated that the NCAA’s penalties included voiding the school’s victories from years that Jerry Sandusky was an assistant coach. The NCAA vacated victories from 1998 through 2011; Mr. Sandusky retired from the Penn State coaching staff after the 1999 season. This version has been corrected.

IN JULY, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) urged Penn State University to accept the NCAA’s tough and appropriate punishment stemming from former football coach Jerry Sandusky’s serial rape of children. Now the governor has turned unrepentant. In a rash lawsuit filed last week against the NCAA, Mr. Corbett and the state seek to reverse the sanctions, suggesting that the real victims in the Sandusky case are Penn State and its football-loving fans, students and merchants. What a disgrace.

At the core of the NCAA’s penalties — which include a $60 million fine; a four-year ban on postseason play and the voiding of victories from 1998 through 2011 — is the recognition that top officials at Penn State ignored and enabled criminality because of a culture that venerated football above all else. In such a culture, crime, morality and basic decency were swept aside in the name of protecting an idolized program.

The university, which did not join the governor’s lawsuit, acknowledged as much by accepting the NCAA’s judgment. Apparently the lesson was lost on Mr. Corbett in what he calls his “evolved” thinking since the sanctions were imposed.

Mr. Corbett, who also sits on Penn State’s board of trustees, barely nods in his lawsuit at the children who were raped by Mr. Sandusky over a period of 14 years. Instead, the suit charges that the NCAA exceeded its authority and did the state wrong by imposing sanctions that would cripple the football program and thereby “harm the citizens and the general economy” of Pennsylvania.

The lawsuit and Mr. Corbett’s newfound objections to the NCAA’s sanctions have the whiff of political desperation. The governor faces an uphill race for reelection next year, and he has been the target of wrath from Penn State alumni, a significant constituency in Pennsylvania. Tellingly, the suit was filed without the input of the state’s incoming attorney general, Kathleen Kane (D). Ms. Kane ran on a promise to examine Mr. Corbett’s handling of the Sandusky case, which he began investigating as attorney general in 2008.

Intentionally or not, Mr. Corbett’s suit makes the very case that former FBI director Louis Freeh made in his report on the Sandusky case, which was commissioned by the university. The suit argues that students and families make a commitment to the school partly because of “the prominence of the football program” — thereby acknowledging that football is the tail wagging Penn State’s dog. That’s precisely why the university itself, and not just Mr. Sandusky or the higher-ups charged with covering up for him, must be held accountable.

Mr. Sandusky, 68, is serving a sentence of 30 to 60 years. The late Joe Paterno, the head football coach who failed to prevent his subordinate’s assaults on children, died in disgrace. Other top Penn State officials, including former president Graham Spanier, face criminal charges related to covering up Mr. Sandusky’s crimes.

Slowly, Penn State has been forced to reckon with the outrages made possible by a football program regarded as beyond reproach. Mr. Corbett, in bringing his imprudent lawsuit, subverts that process of reckoning.