That loud thud heard in State College yesterday was the sound of the other shoe dropping, and dropping hard, on the Penn State football team.
Before last Saturday's Blue-White game, which concluded the Nittany Lions' spring football practice, coach Joe Paterno was asked about an off-campus altercation involving a number of his players that State College police were investigating.
"It hasn't been a distraction yet," Paterno said. "I've got to concentrate on the football part. I don't worry about those things until I have to worry about them. I'm not sure I have to worry about that yet. I don't know one way or the other."
With yesterday's arrest of six Penn State players, including star defensive backs Anthony Scirrotto and Justin King, however, Paterno has ample reason to worry. Each player faces at least one felony count of criminal trespass. Scirrotto, a junior safety from West Deptford, N.J., faces the most serious charges, including burglary and criminal solicitation, both felonies.
In addition to Scirrotto and King, a junior cornerback who is getting some preseason All-America notices, other players allegedly involved in an off-campus fight that turned violent on April 1 are sophomore defensive tackle Chris Baker, junior cornerback Lydell Sargeant, junior linebacker Tyrell Sales and sophomore linebacker Jerome Hayes.
Baker was charged with felony counts of burglary and criminal trespass, plus four related charges. The charges against Baker are more serious, according to State College police, because he is the only one positively identified as having thrown punches.
Sargeant, Sales, King and Hayes were each charged with felony criminal trespass, plus two related counts.
All six players were arraigned yesterday and released on unsecured bail.
"Speaking for our football staff, we are very concerned with the accusations made [yesterday] and will determine the appropriate consequence for each player's status on the team when due process has transpired," Paterno said in a statement. "Until such time, we will have no further comment regarding the situation."
Police said Scirrotto and his girlfriend got into an altercation with three men on a State College street and followed them into an apartment building where a party was being held. Scirrotto called his brother and some friends to join him, but they were not let into the party right away.
Scirrotto then called a teammate and met up with some players who also arrived at the party, authorities said. A group of men, including all six players, rushed into the apartment.
One victim was hit in the head with a beer bottle and knocked unconscious, another was punched and kicked in the face, and other victims also were punched, police said. At least five students were struck during the fight, and at least two required treatment at a hospital.
Penn State's judicial affairs office will review the matter to determine whether the students violated the university code of conduct, spokesman Bill Mahon said.
LSU football coach Les Miles dismissed freshman defensive back Troy Giddens, freshman offensive lineman Zhamal Thomas and sophomore offensive lineman Kyle Anderson from the team after they ran afoul of the law in Baton Rouge, La. Anderson was arrested on April 16 and charged with second-degree battery after allegedly being involved in an off-campus fight and breaking another man's nose and teeth; Giddens and Thomas were arrested on April 9 and charged with simple burglary and identity theft.
Given the seriousness of the charges against the six Penn State players, much attention will be focused on how Paterno, 80, handles one of the consequential disciplinary situations in his 41-year stewardship of the program.
Star linebacker Dan Connor, then a sophomore, was placed on a 10-day "deferred expulsion" by the university's judicial affairs office on Sept. 8, 2005, for making harassing telephone calls to a retired assistant coach earlier in the year. He did not start the first four games that season while in Paterno's doghouse.
The expulsion or incarceration of the six Penn State players in this instance, or even extended in-season suspensions, could wreck the Lions' Big Ten and national championship aspirations. In addition to high expectations for Scirrotto, the Big Ten leader in interceptions a year ago, and King, Sales and Hayes were competing for a starting position at outside linebacker, while Sargeant was named the most improved defensive player during spring practice. *