Penn State sanctions: Legislators say NCAA 'tearing down a whole town'

State College - Centre Daily TimesJuly 24, 2012 

Local elected officials expect the Centre County community to bounce back from unprecedented sanctions imposed Monday against Penn State by the NCAA.

“I believe in this community,” said state Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township, hours after the NCAA levied a $60 million fine and other penalties against the university, which many fear will have unintended repercussions on the local economy.

“We will rebound, because that’s the spirit of the people who live here,” Conklin said. “They will rebound and be better than before.”

State Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, called Centre County residents “survivors,” but also said the sanctions were a “tremendous blow.”

“I’m very anxious to know what the decision criteria was,” Benninghoff said. “And, more importantly, why they felt they needed to jump in at this point.

“While they (the NCAA) had a role, and sanctions might have followed, when you have an open court case, part of it seems premature.”

Former top administrators Tim Curley and Gary Schultz are facing perjury charges for allegedly lying to a grand jury investigating allegations of child sexual abuse against Jerry Sandusky. They have a court hearing scheduled for Aug. 16.

Sandusky, the longtime Penn State defensive coordinator, was convicted last month on 45 counts of child abuse. He’s in the county prison waiting to be sentenced.

An internal investigation, headed by former FBI director Louis Freeh, found former coach Joe Paterno, former President Graham Spanier, Curley and Schultz concealed allegations against Sandusky.

Benninghoff said the NCAA, instead of punishing the few people involved, is “tearing down a whole town, a whole community.”

“In my opinion it’s kind of missing the point — punishing good students, good faculty, good community members,” he said. “It’s straining the economy, increasing costs of going to school for students, and maybe not touching any of a handful of individuals who may be at fault.”

Benninghoff called it a “machine gun mentality,” saying the NCAA could have instead opted for “precision punishment.”

Conklin said nothing can undo “the heinous acts of Sandusky.” But he expects community members to pull together to get through these times.

“Our community is more than this incident,” Conklin said. “Folks here are concerned about their neighbors. They will not allow this to destroy the community.”

Benninghoff said it’s important for the community to “hold up what is good” and focus on the positive.

“There are an awful lot of great things going on in Centre County,” he said. “We cannot let the naysayers define our community.”

State Sen. Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, a Penn State graduate, did not return calls to his office and cellphone seeking comment.

U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Howard Township, who issued a prepared statement Monday, said the university is moving forward as well.

In his statement, Thompson said the sanctions “serve as yet another reminder of the moral and institutional failures that allowed for horrific acts against innocent children to occur and subsequent pain and suffering that continued to plague the victims and their families.

“The face that Penn State initiated the Freeh report and is cooperating with the investigation is a strong indicator that the university is moving forward and taking steps to restore honor and integrity to this institution and make certain that such tragic behavior never occurs again,” Thompson’s statement said.

State Rep. Mike Hanna, D-Lock Haven, also could not be reached for comment Monday.

Matt Carroll can be reached at 231-4631. Follow him on Twitter @Carrollreporter.

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