The first story that I wrote about this season's football team wasn't on Anthony Morelli, the Nittany Lions defense or national championship possibilities. It was about April's off-campus fight, an altercation that resulted in the arrest of several players last spring.
One of the last football articles I will contribute to focuses on another off-field issue. The news yesterday that defensive tackle Chris Baker, linebacker Navorro Bowman and reserve defensive back Knowledge Timmons were charged for their alleged roles in a late-night fight in the HUB-Robeson Center in October, just hours after a Lions win against Iowa.
Distractions, it seems, have come full circle.
And they've been significant enough that this season will be remembered more for players' contact with State College police than poor offensive philosophy or playcalling.
For one thing, some players haven't appeared to learn any lessons from the April debacle. Baker, one of the players charged in relation to that incident, was again charged yesterday.
According to the criminal complaint, Baker identified a dozen players other than himself as being present at the party in the HUB where the fight occurred a few weeks ago.
If true, that's a good amount, not just an isolated one-on-one argument. And it would be a number similar to the size of the group named in the criminal complaints generated in response to the April incident at Meridian Apartments.
So why haven't they learned? Who's to blame?
The fault doesn't rest with one person. It would be unfair to hold Baker or Joe Paterno solely accountable for players allegedly getting involved in a fight after midnight.
But I don't think it's unfair to suggest that poor decisions, the situation as a whole, and subsequent distractions could have been avoided. Keep in mind that if the court documents are accurate, the HUB altercation occurred hours after a win against Iowa and not long before the entire team was scheduled to clean up Beaver Stadium, its punishment for the April brawl.
College students like to go out on weekends, obviously, but sometimes I'd elect to stay in and watch a movie, especially if I needed to wake up early on a Sunday to cleanse concrete aisles and metal bleachers.
And not only that, but the latest alleged fighting occurred two days after players learned Paterno dismissed running back Austin Scott from team activities. Scott's sudden absence that weekend was a disruption and the big news of the time (not the Iowa game), and continued to be the question of main interest in the weeks thereafter. One would think most players would like to have avoided another distraction, especially on the same weekend.
And anyway, who fights at the HUB? That's supposed to be where students can go on weekends if they're not interested with the alcohol-infused downtown culture here.
So what is it?
The culture. Not the alcohol-infused one, but the college sports one.
It's a culture that puts any interesting story about the Penn State football team on the front pages of newspapers and Web sites. A culture that has reporters asking college kids if they're going to leave school early and leave their education behind in favor of a big professional payday.
If we're not careful, we can start making players believe they're more important than the games. Which could lead to stories like this, reactions to news from off the field.
At the same time, it would be unfair to label every member of the team a hooligan. Many appear unaffected by the popularity of being a big-time college athlete.
But sometimes they become popular in the news for the wrong reasons. Which is why it's completely reasonable to label this entire season a distraction.
A distraction from normalcy.
Corey McLaughlin is a senior majoring in journalism and anthropology and a Collegian football writer. His e-mail address is email@example.com.