On May 14, Penn State quarterback Rashard Casey, 22, and high
school teammate Desmond Miller, 22, were charged with aggravated
assault, a felony, after they allegedly beat up an off-duty
policeman in Casey's hometown of Hoboken, N.J. Police say the
two, both of whom are black, confronted Patrick Fitzsimmons, who
is white, because he was leaving a club with a black woman.
During the ensuing fight Fitzsimmons, 34, a patrolman on the
Hoboken force, was knocked unconscious. Police say his blood was
found on Casey's shirt and boots.

Despite the felony charge against Casey (above), Nittany Lions
coach Joe Paterno answered "yes" last week when asked if Casey
would be starting for Penn State in the Aug. 27 Kickoff Classic
against USC. Has the 73-year-old Paterno, just seven victories
from passing Bear Bryant as Division I-A's winningest coach,
chucked his famous morals to keep his only experienced
signal-caller on the field? "I wouldn't want to be Joe Paterno on
this one," says Allen Sack, author of College Athletes for Hire.
"I believe athletes deserve due process, but at what point does a
coach say there's enough suspicion to pull the plug?"

At some schools the decision wouldn't be the coach's to make.
Florida State and Georgia are among more than a dozen colleges
that have adopted rules forbidding an athlete charged with a
felony from playing. When Florida State's Peter Warrick was
charged with felony theft last year, the school regulation forced
him to miss games against Miami and Wake Forest. (The charge was
later reduced to petty theft.) The ACC has discussed instituting
a conferencewide rule like Florida State's.

Paterno pointed to Casey's reputation as a model citizen in
defending his decision and said he hasn't gone soft in his old
age: "I don't think I've become more sympathetic or less
sympathetic. I try to treat each case on the basis of its
particular merits." The prosecutor's office says the charge
against Casey likely will be reduced to the equivalent of a
misdemeanor, but even so Paterno will face pressure to punish
Casey. After all, two years ago he suspended linebacker Mac
Morrison one game for using a fake I.D. at a State College bar.

--George Dohrmann