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PSAC to seek appeal to ruling

| Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2002

The State System of Higher Education plans to appeal a ruling by an Indiana County judge that reinstated five Indiana (Pa.) football players suspended for their part in a post-game brawl in November.

The agency, acting on behalf of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, filed papers Friday at the Indiana County Courthouse stating its intention to appeal the ruling to the commonwealth court.

The five players were suspended by the PSAC for their role in a post-game fight at Slippery Rock on Nov. 9.

The fight reportedly broke out when IUP players began to rush a ceremonial rock following the Indians' overtime win.

As the players approached, Slippery Rock players and others began to surround the rock, resulting in an altercation that prompted PSAC officials to suspend five IUP players and four Slippery Rock players for one game.

The IUP players challenged the suspensions, and Nov. 21 a hearing was held before county President Judge William Martin. After a nearly seven-hour hearing, Martin agreed to lift the suspensions, clearing the way for the players to join their teammates for their first-round NCAA Division II playoff two days later against Saginaw Valley State.

During the hearing, David White, an attorney for the players, contended that the suspensions were handed out arbitrarily and would cost his clients the chance to play in the game against Saginaw, which IUP won.

Charles Schweitzer, who represented the PSAC, unsuccessfully argued that the case should be heard in commonwealth court rather than at the county level because the conference was a state entity operated by the State System of Higher Education.

Kenn Marshall, a spokesman for the state system, said Monday that Schweitzer's argument is at the core of the appeal.

He said the PSAC has been under state control for many years, first by the state college system and then by the state university system. He said that because of the status of the conference, any hearings in which it is involved should be heard in commonwealth court.

"At this point, it's a legal precedence issue," he said. "It's not about whether or not the players should have been allowed to play. It's about where this case should have been heard in the first place."

He said the next step is for attorneys for the state system to file briefs seeking to have the case moved from county court — also known as Court of Common Pleas — to commonwealth court.

Marshall said he could speculate when the case would be resolved other to say that "it could be a lengthy process."

In the game against Saginaw Valley State, only two of the players dressed for the game. The other three did not play because of an in-house suspension imposed on them by coach Frank Cignetti for their involvement in the post-game fight.

In addition to IUP and Slippery Rock, the state system operates 12 other universities across Pennsylvania.

Neither White, Schweitzer or PSAC Commissioner Steven Murray were available for comment yesterday.

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