On a fall semester night, the grounds in front of Penn State’s Old Main filled with students, chanting and calling in common cause.
It might have been the scene on campus on the night Joe Paterno was fired two years ago, the night student protests blew up into a riot, complete with a flipped news van.
But it wasn’t.
Instead, the crowd Monday was downright jubilant. Students kicked up their heels after a day that started with the NCAA dropping its part of a legal battle over the $60 million penalty levied against Penn State over the Sandusky scandal, moved on to the George Mitchell report lauding the university’s work over the past year, and was capped by the NCAA giving back the possibility of a bowl game come January and a full allotment of scholarships for next year.
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For Nittany Lion fans, it was a birthday party meets Christmas with a dash of World Series thrown in.
“It was very happy, a very celebratory crowd,” State College Police Chief Tom King said. “Obviously, everyone was very excited.”
Students moved from Old Main and Beaver Stadium on campus to Beaver Canyon in downtown State College, where they stayed the longest, with the mobile pep rally turning into an impromptu block party atmosphere.
King said the crowd just wanted to be together and enjoy the moment, and did it with a great deal of respect, prompting little involvement from police. There was no call for dispersing, and no arrests were made — because the celebration warranted neither.
“Our way of responding is dictated by the crowd,” King said.
A glimpse at the police reports backs him up. There were five disorderly conduct calls overnight, two of them at closing time for downtown bars, about average for a weekday with students in session.
“It wasn’t too much crazier than normal,” said Matt Floravit, manager at Canyon Pizza, who noted the party outside included things like crowd surfing on mattresses. “It was just crazy how fast it happened.”
Penn State had little comment on the situation, other than to give credit for restraint.
“We’re glad students expressed themselves in a peaceful way,” spokeswoman Lisa Powers said.
The Nittany Lions appreciated the celebration and the fact that it stayed under control.
“We think it’s great that they’re celebrating the sanctions being lifted. But at the same time, we’re glad that it was a peaceful riot or rally and nobody got hurt and nothing got broken,” said senior linebacker Mike Hull.
Head coach James Franklin, who said Monday that his focus was on Saturday’s Big Ten Conference opener at Rutgers, was watching film with his staff as the gathering gathered steam.
“I was aware of what was going on and I think it’s great to have excitement and enthusiasm, and I think it’s great that it shows how much people care. I think it’s part of the education process as well because you can go out, you can go out and enjoy yourself with others. We’ve just got to do it the right way,” Franklin said. “But there is enthusiasm, there is excitement and there is tremendous pride in this school and part of the healing that’s taking place and moving forward.”