Penn State rugby team suspended; university reviewing allegations two team members burned down a storage shed

mcarroll@centredaily.comMarch 21, 2014 

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Penn State police have charged two members of the university’s rugby team with setting a Jan. 15, 2014 fire that destroyed a storage shed near a parking lot on the western edge of campus.

NABIL K. MARK — CDT file photo Buy Photo

— Penn State has suspended its entire men’s rugby team after two players were charged this week with burning down the team’s storage shed, and an investigation revealed what police called discontent among the team with its coach.

The team was placed on summary suspension from practice and competition, and matches this weekend against Navy and Susquehanna have been canceled, Penn State said in a statement Friday.

Two team members, Sean Herbert, 21, and Christopher Petri, 22, were charged Tuesday with multiple felony counts in connection with a fire in January that destroyed a shed used to store equipment for the university’s rugby and cross country teams.

While investigating the fire, police interviewed members of the team, coaches and staff and learned of “ongoing issues of discontent within the ranks” of the team over disagreements “with the head coach, his coaching style and the overall status of the team,” according to a criminal complaint.

When reached by phone Friday, coach Don Ferrell said he could not comment because of an ongoing investigation.

Penn State’s Office of Student Conduct has started a judicial review of the case, and the athletics department is also reviewing the matter, the university said Friday. The statement said that there will be no further comment from the university until the reviews are complete.

The night of the fire, Herbert and Petri were at a party in their home, known as the Rugby House because a number of players live there. They left with a lighter and a bottle of lighter fluid, police said in the court documents.

People at the party, including multiple rugby players, were venting frustrations with the status of the team and made comments that they would “mess with the shed,” or set a fire, police said.

Herbert and Petri are accused of taking things a step further, leaving their North Patterson Street residence for the shed, located near the Red A parking lot next to the university soccer fields on North Atherton Street, and starting the fire, police said.

The rugby program is classified by the university as a team sport, rather than a club sport, and because of that is part of Penn State’s intercollegiate athletics department, according to its website.

As such, the team has benefits that include paid coaching and administration staffs, the website said.

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

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