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CHICAGO, Ill. -- Should college coaches hit Penn State football when it's down? Should they try to recruit current Nittany Lions away for this upcoming season, even by going on the State College campus?
NCAA rules in the wake of Penn State sanctions over the Jerry Sandusky scandal say go for it, and some coaches have. But is it the right thing to do?
It depends on your perspective.
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said during Thursday's Big Ten football kickoff event that he won't do it. Purdue coach Danny Hope said his staff has had contact with Nittany Lions players, and that communication will continue. IU coach Kevin Wilson said his staff is not actively recruiting Penn State players, but did inquire about interest. New Illinois coach Tim Beckman sent assistants to a pair of State College location earlier this week and let players know his coaches were available to talk. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said he's worried about the effect this will have on future relationships between conference coaches and officials. Penn State coach Bill O'Brien compared it to “NFL free agency without the rules.”
“The NCAA created this incredible environment and made it highly competitive to recruit these guys, BTN football analyst Gerry DiNardo said. “You give someone who is highly competitive, and coaches are highly competitive, and put them in a highly competitive situation, you're going to have a bunch of coaches sitting outside a player's door.”
Nittany Lions sanctions included a four-year bowl ban. To avoid penalizing current players, the NCAA changed its rules to allow them to transfer immediately without having to redshirt a season. It also allowed schools to actively recruit them.
Almost immediately, USC coach Lane Kiffin contacted Penn State leading rusher Silas Redd. Plenty of other schools followed. O'Brien said some of his players have received as many as 50 scholarship offers. As of Thursday, he said, no player had transferred.
Although Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke has said he doesn't endorse going after Penn State players, Hope pushes an aggressive recruiting approach within the rules. Recruiting Nittany Lions, he said, is no different than recruiting other players.
“These rules are sanctioned by the NCAA,” he said. “For us not to compete would be a disadvantage to our program. Whether or not anything materializes from this, I don't know.
“To me they're like any other recruit. If they are available and can help us win, we're interested.”
Hope said he hasn't personally reached out to Penn State players, but some of his assistant coaches have. They haven't been to the State College campus, but he doesn't rule it out.
“When there are players in Florida, we send coaches there. When players are in Texas, we send coaches there. We send coaches when they're allowed to go in any area there are players.”
Wilson said he has no intention of aggressively going after Penn State players.
“Every guy has his style, but I didn't feel like just calling people out of the blue, or cold calling like a sales call. If it was of interest to someone, they would reach out to you.”
Wilson said some of his assistant coaches know some Penn State players, so they called the players' high school coaches to see if there was any interest.
“My thought was, is it someone we have a shot at? It didn't go too far.”
Wilson said he doesn't see many Penn State players leaving this season.
“These kids have embraced that program, that community. It's their friends and their lives. I see a lot of them locking in and fighting and moving forward.”
DiNardo, the former Indiana head coach, said blaming coaches for recruiting on the Penn State campus, “is probably wrong.”
“Penn State brought this on themselves,” he said. “The other schools have not made the mistakes. Penn State made the mistakes.
“It's unusual and it doesn't feel right, but I think if you drilled down, and I'm the head coach and I tell one of my assistants to recruit a Penn State player and he says his best chance is to go on campus, what's wrong with that? If there was something wrong, I assume the NCAA wouldn't allow it.”
Some have described coaches recruiting Nittany Lions as being like vultures circling over wounded prey. DiNardo said that's what recruiting is.
“Vultures circling is part of the definition of recruiting, whether it's this situation or others,” he said. “That's what we do every day in recruiting.
“If I was a head coach and I thought there was a player at Penn State who could help my team, and the NCAA not only said I could do it, but my interpretation is that the NCAA is encouraging this, and my (athletic director) had no problem with it, I'd be recruiting the players. If my guy said the best way to recruit is to go to his door, I'd say don't break the rules, and bring back the player.”
Illinois' Beckman came close to that. He said his athletic director provided Penn State with a list of players the Illini were recruiting. He said assistant coaches “went to two establishments outside (the Penn State) campus and called some individuals. If they wanted to come by, it was their opportunity to come by.”
Beckman, who is five scholarships below the 85-scholarship limit in his first season with the Illini, said he had nothing to apologize for because they were following NCAA rules.
Delany said he talked to Big Ten presidents about his concerns over negative consequences with conference coaches actively recruiting Penn State players.
“My advice was this wasn't a healthy place for us to be,” he said.
He said the presidents were unanimous that the players should have every transfer option available to them, including Big Ten schools. Delany said he talked to conference coaches about it on Thursday morning and stressed that it be done with “reasonableness” and a “way that makes sense.”
O'Brien said he wasn't surprised about the lack of conference restrictions and had no opinion about it. He did have an opinion on why players should stay.
“I talked to them about the education they're receiving at Penn State, about the bond they've formed with this football staff and our ability to develop these guys for the National Football League. I talked to them about adversity, and the measure of a man is how you overcome adversity.”