STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Two Pennsylvania congressmen want the NCAA to restore football scholarships taken away from Penn State, saying in a letter Monday those sanctions unfairly punish innocent student-athletes for the child sex abuse scandal involving retired assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
In the letter to NCAA President Mark Emmert, U.S. Reps. Charlie Dent and Glenn Thompson wrote that taking away up to 40 scholarships harmed players who had nothing to do with the scandal that engulfed the university in 2011.
"I want to make it clear to the NCAA who they are really hurting with this scholarship reduction. It's not Jerry Sandusky and it's not the university," Dent said in a statement. "They are hurting young people who are completely innocent of anything relating to the Sandusky situation and who through no fault of their own are being denied a chance to get a great education."
A spokeswoman for college sports' governing body said the NCAA would respond directly to Dent instead of through the media. A Penn State spokesman declined comment.
The NCAA sanctions limit Penn State's recruiting classes to no more than 15 signees a year for four years, starting with the 2013 class to be formally finalized next week. Most teams can sign 25.
Sanctions also include a four-year postseason ban that began for the 2012 season and a $60 million fine.
If his request to restore scholarships is denied, the congressmen asked Emmert to deduct from the fine an amount equal to 40 scholarships so the school can use it instead to supply access to academic programs.
In announcing sanctions last July, Emmert drew the ire of some fans and alumni after the NCAA denounced the school for "perpetuating a `football-first' culture that ultimately enabled serial child sexual abuse to occur."
Penn State historically has had high graduation rates for athletes. Dent cited in his letter NCAA data released last year showing the football team had a record graduation rate of 91 percent, which was tied with Rutgers for seventh best among major college programs. The major college average was 68 percent.
Dent said the statistics showed Penn State places education ahead of football.
"Thus, arbitrarily eliminating 40 scholarships to Penn State is undeniably and inexcusably punitive to young people" not involved with the scandal, he said.
The sanctions have also drawn criticism from Gov. Tom Corbett, who as attorney general headed the office that investigated Sandusky and won his conviction under his successor, Linda Kelly. Corbett has filed a federal anti-trust lawsuit against the NCAA and state Sen. Jake Corman has filed a legal challenge over the allocation of the fine money.
The NCAA has come under increased scrutiny of late, and not just for its response to the Sandusky scandal. The organization faces about a half-dozen lawsuits that could reshape how it does business.
The NCAA also announced last week that its enforcement staff had botched a high-profile investigation of the University of Miami. While Dent said he didn't know all the details of the Miami case, "it certainly should give hope to those concerned about how Penn State was mistreated."
Dent, in a phone interview, said he was hopeful there would be a congressional hearing on the NCAA.
The first day that high school seniors can formally sign with their college choices is Feb. 6. However, Penn State already has five recruits who enrolled early, for the spring semester that started this month, and their scholarships can count against the 2012 allotment which does not fall under sanctions.
That means the incoming scholarship freshman class for the football team this fall may have more than 15 members anyway.