Greensboro, NC – The NCAA’s punishment of Penn State wasn’t exactly what the ACC’s 12 head coaches wanted to address Monday at the ACC Football Kickoff. But it was unavoidable.
It took a while for some coaches to field questions on the matter at the Grandover Resort, and others were hit with it right away. Two coaches, Boston College’s Frank Spaziani and Miami’s Al Golden, played for Joe Paterno at Penn State. It was obvious the day’s biggest news was affecting them different than the other head men.
“It’s a tragedy on a lot of levels,” Spaziani said, leaning back, carefully and slowly choosing his words. “First and foremost, I feel about the victims of the crime. And, that shouldn’t be pushed to the backburner for any reason. But there are a lot of other tragedies on a lot of levels.”
The BC coach didn’t appear comfortable going any further, though he said he would entertain the idea of welcoming a Penn State transfer, since all PSU players are allowed to leave for another school immediately and can play this fall.
“We’re open to whatever the rules are and how the game is being played,” Spaziani said.
Golden wanted to avoid the topic, though he said “it’s really prudent on my part to make sure I read and take my time and look at what all has been handed down and what ultimately led them to arrive at that.”
The coaches agreed the message sent by the NCAA – four year bowl ban, $60 million fine, loss of 10 scholarships a year for four years, a five-year probation, and vacating all of PSU’s victories from 1998 to 2011, thus meaning Paterno is no longer college football’s all-time leader in victories – was to every program in the nation. In particular, it was about how powerful cultures must find more balance within their communities.
“There should never be anybody that feels like they’re invincible or more powerful than the university or anything like that,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. “The biggest message to me is you do what’s right. We all have decisions to make every single day. You do what’s right and if you don’t there’s consequences for that.”
New North Carolina coach Larry Fedora, who inherited a program that just got whacked by the NCAA, said the message the NCAA sent should be loud and clear to everyone in college athletics.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt about it,” said Fedora, whose Tar Heels are ineligible to play in a bowl game this season. “Each time as we go in college football, every time they do something now they’re trying to send a stronger and stronger message each time until eventually, hopefully, everybody understands the message.”
Yet, with the NCAA allowing Penn State players to find new homes right away, ACC doors are open, even if the programs are already at the 85 scholarship limit. Programs can exceed that figure to admit a PSU player, but must be under the same number next season.
“Yeah, we would because we have recruited some of them before and know some of them and have relationships with some of them,” said N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien, who has “three or four” scholarships available.
O’Brien believes a lot of Penn State players will choose to leave.
“I don’t know if the upper class will bail because they’ve been there,” the Wolfpack coach said. “Certainly, maybe the younger kids looking at a four-year bowl ban, you’re looking at being a I-AA team.”
The process of welcoming a Penn State player isn’t as easy at some schools, such as Duke and Wake Forest. Wake coach Jim Grobe said admitting junior college kids or transfers has been difficult at the private school in Winston-Salem, NC, because the academic standards for the players are so high.
Wake is the second smallest school in the FBS with an enrollment just under 4,000. It prides itself on the culture it has built and maintained for decades. The football program’s needs won’t change that.
“We will always consider it,” said Grobe, who has five available scholarships. “I’m not opposed to a junior college player, I’m not opposed to a transfer. We just haven’t had much success finding guys that we could get in.”
Swinney knew nothing about Penn State’s roster as of Monday afternoon, but he’ll likely familiarize himself with the players, and if interested, he and the other ACC coaches can contact PSU, inform the school it’s going to approach a player, and then see what happens.
However, maybe Swinney, who has a few scholarships available, will stay put
“If somebody’s calling you, you step back and evaluate the situation,” he said. “If you have a good player that is calling you have an unprecedented situation… I’m certainly not looking for anybody. I love our football team. I have no idea how all of that stuff will play out.”