CHICAGO - Joe Paterno walked into an interview room about 15 minutes late at the Big Ten football media day yesterday and joked with reporters about needing to run laps as a punishment for his tardiness.

The Penn State coach has been well aware of time ticking away before the start of preseason practices and his 42d season at Happy Valley. That is why he said he decided to hold off on punishing safety Anthony Scirrotto and defensive tackle Chris Baker, allowing them to attend opening practices Monday in State College.

On Tuesday, Paterno said he was undecided on issues regarding the two players, who are facing criminal charges, and he reiterated that yesterday.

"I tried to back away from one or two or three particular guys until I know exactly what went on. Now, it might be a while," he said. "That's when I decided . . . that we're all in it together."

The players are awaiting trial in October or November, stemming from an off-campus fight and alleged home invasion on April 1 that also involved other Nittany Lions players.

Scirrotto, a former star at West Deptford High, led the Big Ten last season with six interceptions and was named first-team all-Big Ten. The junior has been charged with burglary, criminal trespass and criminal solicitation, assault and harassment.

Baker is a sophomore backup from Windsor, Conn., who played in eight games last season. He has been charged with burglary, criminal trespass, assault and harassment.

Paterno said he would see how the cases play out before disciplining either player. Scirrotto and Baker were expelled from summer classes by the university but were cleared to practice and play in games.

"Something may come out," Paterno said. ". . . Downtown people [at the Centre County Courthouse] subpoenaed the records of conversations of judicial affairs with the kids. I don't know. I've never seen it, so I have no idea what they're looking for."

The players' trials were moved from August until October at the earliest because information requested from an internal inquiry by Penn State's office of judicial affairs had not been provided to legal authorities, Centre County District Attorney Michael Madeira said.

Before Oct. 1, Penn State will play Florida International, Notre Dame, Buffalo, Michigan and Illinois.

Paterno said he had not spoken to the players to explain their status with the team.

"What am I going to tell them?" he said. "Until we see what's going to happen, if they get cleared. . . . They're not on probation. I'm waiting for everything to get settled before I do anything I might think is appropriate. I don't think for me to stick my two cents in now is going to do any good."

Paterno hopes the discipline he has imposed on the team - community-service projects and cleaning up Beaver Stadium after home games - sends a message. But he also feels the trouble his players landed in has been exaggerated.

(Police said several Penn State players barged into a party and started a fight at an off-campus apartment.)

"I think they have to have a little more responsibility, that they shouldn't overreact," Paterno said. "I think they were agitated into doing some things. It wasn't as bad as [the media] and a lot of people made it out to be. I think we ought to have some people [on the team] say, 'Hey, this isn't worth it' " and talk their teammates out of bad situations.