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Penn State: The Surprising Calm Before the Sandusky Trial Storm

by on May 31, 2012 10:00 PM

In State College and on the Penn State campus, it’s the calm before the Sandusky trial storm.

Or, maybe it’s just the calm.

Downtown State College was quiet this week, with eateries and coffee shops as empty as they get the entire year. Campus featured a smattering of students and many hopeful freshmen and parents in town for orientation.

The valley may not be totally happy, but we are getting there.

That may not be what people want to hear – or, in some cases are experiencing – but in many ways the community is getting back to normal. At least much closer to normal than many people think. Or even thought possible a half-year ago.

Obviously, scars remain.

Revelations may be coming possibly fast and definitely furious. The trials of Jerry Sandusky, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, the release of the Freeh report and other investigations, and impending books and documents are sure to reveal a great deal.

Jury selection for the trial of Sandusky, accused of 52 counts in a child sexual abuse case, starts on Tuesday. That’s exactly seven months since the Attorney General’s presentment officially hit on Nov. 5.

But while much is to come, in a number of ways State College and Penn State continue to survive and, on occasion, thrive.

The Penn State affiliation that was supposed to scar the graduating class of 2012 hasn’t happened, at least from my perspective. For example, two top-notch students closely aligned with Penn State athletics who I’ve known for a number of years both accepted jobs this week, less than three weeks after graduating.

The president of Paternoville, John Tecce – connected to the late coach and PSU football in a number of ways – is about to start a new job at Ricoh. Tecce was quite visible during the height of the scandal, appearing on TV and in print as a representative of Paternoville and the entire 43,000-student body.

“The scandal had no effect on my job search, and I even used it to my advantage in interviews,” Tecce texted on Thursday. “Almost all of my friends have jobs and internships, and in many cases I’ve found the Penn state alumni network to be as strong as ever after what happened.”

A newly minted journalism graduate, Ellen McNair, will be starting a season-long PR internship with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She turned down a spot with the Buffalo Bills and said that her Penn State ties helped in her job search, not hurt.

That McNair was a Penn State varsity athlete was also viewed as a plus. A solid scholarship softball player and an excellent student – she was one of a record-five Lady Lion softball seniors to earn All-Big Ten academic honors for four consecutive years – she said interviewers were most interested in her academics, athletics and internship experience.

“Sandusky did not come up with the Bucs, but it did come up with the Bills,” texted McNair, who was headed to Florida on Thursday. “It was very brief; they asked if I felt it was handled well from a PR standpoint.”

The Penn State campus is a hub of activity this weekend: lacrosse and volleyball state championships, Penn State’s largest alumni reunion weekend of the calendar year and football camps are literally bringing thousands of people to the area. Many of the visitors are past Penn State students, while others still yearn to be future Penn State student-athletes.

Among the lax games was a state playoff game Thursday night between State High and Shady Side Academy of Pittsburgh, in a contest played at the new lacrosse stadium south of the Bryce Jordan Center. It’s a spectacular setting, with hillside seating that accommodated several hundred of boisterous State College parents, students and townsfolk.

State High lost, 4-2, but to me it was an example of the State College community gathering to support the good that sports offer in a venue and circumstance that represent the best of our valley.

At Penn State, the PR people report that despite the scandal several key indicators regarding the university’s health are on the increase. That’s not easy, given that pre-scandal PSU was ranked as the No. 1 destination where college high school students sent their SAT scores.

For example: Up are bachelor degree applications (2 percent), paid acceptances to University Park (6 percent), funded research (16.7 percent), the number of donors to the Annual Giving Fund and the number of Alumni Association members.

On the athletics side, in the past 11 months the number of Nittany Lion Club members and the amount of their donations have already surpassed the 2010-11 full-year levels. Corporate sponsorship of athletics have also exceeded last year’s totals, with one month to go in Penn State’s fiscal year.

Of course, all is not rosy. And that's not to belittle the lingering sadness and anger.

A figure involved in the scandal acknowledged to me a few weeks ago that “what is coming in the summer is going to get a lot tougher.” Another said that "the Freeh report won't look good for anyone, including the trustees." A Penn State administrator allowed last week that there is “a lot of work to do ahead.” And Penn State’s name has been damaged nationally.

While new head coach Bill O’Brien has done as good a job over the past five months as anyone had a right to expect, Penn State football is a tougher sell – literally -- in some regards. But that’s partially a function of the STEP ticket program, which got off on the wrong foot last year.

Much worse, the scandal has caused close friends to lose their jobs, while a few others who have stay employed have seen their lives inexorably altered. The scandal has torn seams between alumni and the university, most notably involving the board of trustees. And that’s not to mention the worst of all, which is the harm done to the victims, if what the Commonwealth says Sandusky did is true.

There is a lot to come – much of it bad, no doubt.

But as someone who has lived in State College for almost a quarter of a century, who is a Penn State grad and employee, and whose three teens have lived here their entire lives, there are hopeful signs of recovery.

While the valley that inhabits State College may not yet be happy, it is doing better than anyone might have expected now that Sandusky’s day in court is almost here.

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Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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