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PSU Students, Alumni, React to Sanctions

The NCAA's unprecedented sanctions against Penn State will reach far beyond the Nittany Lions football team, which is central to the spirit and makeup of the campus community.

In Happy Valley, the implications of the penalties are still sinking in.

This week might have begun with stories about a statue.

Benjamin Willis, a longtime State College resident, takes pictures outside the site where the Joe Paterno statue stood until this past Sunday morning, when the university's president ordered it to be hauled off and put in storage.

"Something had to happen. They had to address, –they couldn't escape that, it was too much pressure. They just could not turn a blind eye to this whole thing," Willis said, but he wasn't talking about the statue.

Like so many others in Happy Valley, he was talking about the latest fallout from the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal: penalties against the university's hailed football team.

Fourteen years of football wins (1998-2011) have been scrubbed from the record. The team is banned from playing in any bowl games or conference championships for the next four years. Athletic scholarships have been reduced from 25 to 15 for the next four years. The school has been fined $60 million.

Students and school employees, residents, and local business owners are struggling for words to describe their feelings about the sanctions, which could cripple a team as well as the clubs, businesses, and rituals that flourish for six or seven weekends each fall.

For Willis, whose family went to school at Penn State, worked there, and lived in town, it's all a bit much.

"It's bad enough to go after those who are culpable and those who are responsible for what transpired, but then to turn around and cause suffering for those who had nothing to do with it, makes the story more tragic," Willis said.

Some are piping mad about the NCAA decision, saying the governing body overstepped its bounds.

One school administrator admitted midday Monday that he hadn't yet seen the NCAA President Mark Emmert's press conference.

"I've had meetings," he explained, and went on to say he may have been using them as a distraction.

Thousands of prospective students are touring the campus this week, according to some current Penn Staters who work as campus guides.

One tour guide said he got choked up as he answered questions about the football program. He plays in the marching band, and it suddenly hit him that they would not be going to any bowl games this year.

Matt Kropp, a Penn State fan and Wilkes-Barre resident, said things like that drive home how unfair the penalties are.

"I understand that the NCAA had to do something, but every single player that's on that team right now was in junior high school, –not even –elementary school, when this happened," Kropp said.

Economic repercussions aren't far from people's minds.

East College Avenue is a few minutes' walk from the football stadium. It's lined with all the staples of a college town: pizza joints, coffee shops, and Penn State apparel stores every few steps.

Ingrid Ritchie walked onto campus from the street with shopping bags in both hands. She is an incoming freshman at the school, and her father teaches here.

She said she can't see how the local economy comes out of this unscathed.

"I mean it thrives on the football program. It's, you know, all these shops. Everyone comes here every Saturday," Ritchie said. "It's like downtown's crazy. You know, some people don't even, don't go out on Saturdays because it's just so crazy, and I mean, I think businesses will be affected."

But one shop worker said the alumni will turn out this fall. Just wait, he said, as t-shirts bearing the Nittany Lion wave in the breeze behind him. He said fans will come in droves to show they're still Penn State proud.