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Pa. congressmen ask NCAA to relax sanctions on Penn State football

| Monday, July 28, 2014, 7:06 p.m.
Penn State coach James Franklin (right) jokes with Ohio State coach Urban Meyer during the first day at Big Ten media days Monday, July 28, 2014, at the Hilton Chicago. Franklin asked Meyer if he wanted to introduce him to the crowd.
Penn State coach James Franklin addresses the media during the first day at Big Ten Football media days Monday, July 28, 2014, in Chicago.
Penn State coach James Franklin talks to the media during Big Ten Football media days Monday, July 28, 2014, in Chicago.

CHICAGO — Rankled by NCAA president Mark Emmert's recent testimony before a U.S. Senate committee, U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent joined four Pennsylvania colleagues in writing a letter to the NCAA requesting the further rescinding of sanctions the organization imposed on the Penn State football program.

Dent and fellow Congressmen Jim Gerlach, Mike Kelly, Glenn Thompson and Mike Doyle referenced an April Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruling in declaring that the “NCAA has failed to live up to its mission statement” and decrying the lack of due process given to PSU when it took away scholarships, postseason play and previous wins and imposed $60 million in fines on the university.

“Continuing these unprecedented sanctions harms innocent student athletes and further erodes the increasingly specious credibility of the organization,” the letter stated.

Dent, who co-sponsored the National Collegiate Athletics Accountability Act last year, said in a phone interview that Emmert “did not acquit himself well … to put it mildly” at a July 9 testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee.

That — along with the varied litigation the NCAA currently is facing and an April ruling that criticized the validity of the July 2012 consent decree between the NCAA and Penn State — compelled Dent and the others to write the letter.

“The lack of due process to everybody involved in this at Penn State, I think was unacceptable to me and to a lot of folks,” Dent said.

Dent said this is the fifth letter to Congress that he has co-authored.

“We usually will receive a generic, bland response lacking in substance,” Dent said. “You'd think they'd be a little more responsive to the U.S. Congress, but I guess they make a lot of money off the basketball tournament every year, so they don't need to consider our views.”

The delegation that signed this most recent letter — dated July 24 — includes representatives of both major parties (Doyle is a Democrat, the rest Republicans), from the east, west and central portions of the commonwealth. Doyle's district includes Pittsburgh, and Kelly's covers Butler County and north.

At Big Ten media days, conference commissioner Jim Delany said he was not aware of the letter but that the conference “fully supports” the recommendations of former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell.

Mitchell, the independent athletics integrity officer monitoring Penn State, last fall recommended that PSU's football scholarships gradually be restored to pre-sanctions level two years ahead of time. The NCAA followed suit and has hinted that further softening of the sanctions might still come. Mitchell's next report is expected in the coming weeks.

“I hope that if progress continues to be made, that the NCAA would look positively on any request that is suggested by Sen. Mitchell,” Delany said. “We'll definitely follow his lead on it.”

A Penn State spokesperson did not respond to a request for university reaction. Dent emphasized he is not blaming Penn State for signing the consent decree because “they had a figurative gun to their head” from the NCAA via a threat of levying the so-called “death penalty” (shutting down the program for a period of time).

Coach James Franklin and three Penn State players each indicated they would welcome the chance to go to a bowl game this season or next.

“I spend very little time thinking or talking about those things because I don't want to be disappointed,” Franklin said.

“We don't expect any (reduction in sanctions), so that's the way we're approaching things,” kicker Sam Ficken said. “We obviously all want play in a bowl game, but at the same time, we play 12 games (regardless) and we'll see what we can do with those 12 games.”

Chris Adamski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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