Big Ten coaches say they’re keeping distance from PSU players

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Many would probably agree that the most crippling sanction levied against Penn State by NCAA president Mark Emmert was the mass reduction of scholarships over the next four years.

The penalty is two-fold: a reduction of 10 initial scholarships for the 2013-16 signing classes and 20 total scholarships from 2014-17, giving the Nittany lions a 65-scholarship player cap.

It could take several years before Penn State is able to recover from that, and the NCAA did them one more by opening the transfer gates, allowing any player wishing to leave to do so without the slightest restriction based on conference, head coach or otherwise. On paper, that sounds like a good idea. Transfer restrictions can be, and often are, absurd. But the counter argument in favor of them has always been the free-for-all that would inevitably follow.

And what a free-for-all it’s been already.

CBSSportsBruce Feldman was first to report the free agent frenzy, and as of Wednesday, members of Illinois’ coaching staff were apparently hanging out in State College trying to grab a player or two*.

(*Illinois coach Tim Beckman denied coaches being present at PSU, however)

“We have chosen to stay at Penn State and opposing coaches are outside our apartment, was that the intention of the NCAA?” tweeted Penn State defensive back Adrian Amos

Embellished or not, there was a chaotic vibe coming out of Happy Valley.

Day 1 of Big Ten media days was more subdued. Partially because Nittany Lions running back Silas Redd wasn’t in attendance — he’s reportedly very close to signing with USC — and partially due to other Big Ten, coaches taking a by and large less-controversial approach when it comes to poaching from their fellow Big Ten member.

Bret Bielema (Wisconsin), Brady Hoke (Michigan), Urban Meyer (Ohio State), Bo Pelini (Nebraska) and Kevin Wilson (Indiana) are among the coaches who said in one form or another that they would not actively pursue Penn State players.

“I made the decision as a head coach that we would not reach out to any Penn State players,” Bielema said. “One of the things that I’ve loved and appreciated about being in this conference is there is a genuine respect for everybody in our league. You are a Big Ten brethren.”

I have a problem with [recruiting Penn State’s players],” Meyer added. “I think if a player reaches out and says, ‘I’m outta here and I’m gone,’ a player has a right to do what he wants to do. But to go actively recruit, I have a problem with that.”

And, to be clear, that was the overall theme of coaches not wanting to get involved with Penn State: it would be the player, not the school, initiating the contact.

Maybe that’s true, maybe it isn’t.

I’m a firm believer in the power of the coaching fraternity, where coaches generally look out for one another. And no other coach needs support like Penn State’s Bill O'Brien.

At the same time, the NCAA has made it abundantly clear that coaches are allowed to pursue any kid from Penn State that they want provided they give proper notification. Beckman and Purdue’s Danny Hope seemed less reserved — and, perhaps, more honest — about the possibility of recruiting Penn State.

“The NCAA has established the rules and the guidelines and obviously because they’re strong from an ethics standpoint, and as long as we’re compliant, we’re going to exercise every opportunity we can to enhance our own football team,” Hope said.

And ethics be damned, Hope, along with any other coach seizing the opportunity, is doing the exact same thing Penn State players are allowed to do: look out for No. 1.

Saying otherwise is a PR move, and actually refraining from actively recruiting Penn State is the more humane course of action. But doing the right thing doesn’t equal wins, which is the most the most important metric for college football coaches. If a player can provide immediate assistance somewhere else, the natural reaction is to make it happen.

Funny how the NCAA thought Penn State was the school in need of a culture change.