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Nittany Nightmare: Penn State football rocked by alleged child abuse

Photo courtesy of MCT

Penn State football coach Joe Paterno guided the Nittany Lions to a 10-7 win against Illinois Saturday. The win was the 409th of Paterno’s career, making him the all-time wins leader among NCAA Division I coaches, and it might have been his last.

PSU associate athletic director Jeff Nelson announced Tuesday that Paterno’s weekly media availability had been cancelled as a crowd of approximately 200 members of the media waited to enter the press conference.

Some members of the assembled media likely weren’t there to talk about the Nittany Lions’ upcoming game against Nebraska, though.

On Friday, Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly charged former PSU defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky with 40 counts of child abuse. The now-former university president for finance and business, Gary Schultz, and athletic director, Tim Curley, were also charged with perjury and failure to report child abuse.

Sandusky met the children he allegedly abused through a program called The Second Mile, which he founded, according to a press release from Kelly’s office, which also said:

“Some of those assaults allegedly occurred while Sandusky was a coach at Penn State while others happened on the Penn State campus and … in the locker room of the Penn State football team at Lasch Hall, to which Sandusky apparently had unrestricted access to as part of his retirement agreement with Penn State. It was the activity in those football locker rooms, first reported by a victim in 1998 and again by a witness in 2002, that are particularly disturbing.”

The release also said that a graduate assistant witnessed Sandusky assaulting a child in 2002 and reported the incident to University officials. It goes on to say Paterno also “heard about the sexual assault of that young boy in the football locker room and reported that incident to the top administrators at the university.”

Rich Scarcella, a PSU beat writer since 1989 for the Reading Eagle newspaper in Reading, Pa., said Paterno did what he was legally obligated to do, but some people think he should have done more.

Scarcella said that while Paterno shouldn’t be off the hook, university president Graham Spanier should be the first to go.

“I’m not saying Paterno shouldn’t be fired. There’s a public sentiment that (Paterno) should have done more,” Scarcella said. “In my opinion, the university president’s job should be in jeopardy, and I would fire him before I fire Paterno. He (the president) should be fired.”

But according to a New York Times report, the board of trustees at PSU is already planning Paterno’s exit, which may come in days or weeks.

Lexi Belculfine, editor-in-chief of PSU’s student newspaper, The Daily Collegian, said that students and alumni alike have demonstrated impassioned responses on campus in State College, Pa.

“It’s interesting because it’s not only the student body that is reacting,” Belculfine said. “Anyone who has any connection with Penn State is feeling this. Today, we actually watched a 1975 graduate of Penn State burn his diploma on the steps of our administration building.

“That just shows the passion that people feel about this and the anger that is kind of burning across the entire campus right now.”

As Buckeye Nation knows all too well, PSU is only the latest Big Ten power entangled in an off-field controversy.

PSU’s legal trouble come as Ohio State football awaits a ruling on its NCAA violations.

In December, it was revealed that six OSU players — Terrelle Pryor, Daniel “Boom” Herron, DeVier Posey, Solomon Thomas, Mike Adams and Jordan Whiting — had sold Buckeyes memorabilia in exchange for improper benefits in the form of tattoos. Five of the players were suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season, and Whiting received a one-game suspension. Pryor departed the university June 7 to pursue a professional career.

Former OSU coach Jim Tressel, who was informed of the violations but did not report them, was forced to resign from his post May 30 for knowingly fielding a team with ineligible players throughout the 2010 season.

OSU instituted self-imposed penalties as result of the NCAA violations, which included vacating the 2010 season, including its 2011 Sugar Bowl victory against Arkansas and the $388,811 share in the Big Ten’s payment for the bowl victory.

Scarcella said that, given how PSU and OSU handled their respective run-ins with law enforcement and the NCAA, both universities need a lesson in public relations.

“Both universities need to be more forthcoming about what the (university officials) knew, and when they knew it,” he said.

PSU has not committed any NCAA violations. Sandusky, who retired as Nittany Lions defensive coordinator in 1999, is being prosecuted in Centre County, Pa., where he allegedly abused the children. Schultz and Curley will be prosecuted in Harrisburg, Pa., where they allegedly perjured themselves before the investigating grand jury.

Scarcella said he was very familiar with “Tattoo-gate,” adding that PSU’s problems dwarf OSU’s.

“When you compare the sexual abuse of eight children to the selling of memorabilia for tattoos, it doesn’t compare,” he said. “It really doesn’t compare.”

In Columbus, at least one OSU student — Brittanie Russell — agreed with Scarcella.

Russell, a first-year in health sciences, said it was disturbing to think about Sandusky’s alleged crimes.

“I feel like (Penn State’s issues) is worse, because that (would) demeans that person as a human, to take advantage of a child,” Russell said. “While … (OSU players) were just being, I guess, greedy and wanting money.”

Lindsay Henton, a fifth-year in electrical engineering, said she was shocked when she heard of the crimes that allegedly occurred at PSU football facilities in State College.

“If it’s one of those situations where (Paterno) gets kicked out, I’m going to be really disappointed,” Henton said. “You never want to see a career like that end on those terms just like we didn’t want to see Tressel’s end.”

Scarcella said OSU fans’ are in better standing than the Nittany Lions faithful.

“If you were to ask Penn State fans,” he said, “they would much rather be going through a recruiting violation or a selling memorabilia violation than what they’re going through right now.”

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