Penn State football reduced to rubble by NCAA
By Monday’s NCAA and Big Ten rulings, Penn State won’t play in a Big Ten Championship Game or a bowl game until at least 2016.
By taking an honest look at the football side of this whole nightmarish equation, it’s easy to see it could be more like 2021. Or 2028.
What were billed as “unprecedented” NCAA penalties for Penn State include a jaw-dropping amount of money, 13 years of wins vacated and measures designed to make sure priorities at Penn State shift away from putting football first.
A whole bunch of on-field wins now technically don’t exist. And for the foreseeable future, such wins figure to be very difficult to come by.
Penn State didn’t get the NCAA death penalty like SMU did 25 years ago, but from a football standpoint what it got might eventually prove to be just as bad. Considering the number of current and future players who could leave Penn State or will now never enroll, these sanctions make the two-year bowl ban and scholarship reductions the University of Southern California got for the Reggie Bush ordeal seem like a simple letter of reprimand.
The reduction in the number of scholarships puts Penn State at a tremendous competitive disadvantage on the field. So, too, does the ruling that any current Penn State player can transfer free of restriction at any time during his career.
Even if only a few players leave immediately, those scholarship reductions will make it very difficult for Penn State to compete at a top level. Add the bowl ban and new coach Bill O’Brien is facing a tremendous competitive disadvantage in recruiting, too.
This is the Brady Hoke/Urban Meyer Recruiting Better Than Ever Era of Big Ten football. It’s Wisconsin with dominating line play and free-agent quarterbacks and back-to-back Rose Bowls to sell. It’s Nebraska recruiting from Youngstown to California with legitimate hopes of getting to Indianapolis and to Pasadena. Michigan State’s program is as solid as it’s been in a long time, too.
A team with 65 scholarship players and no chance of getting to the postseason simply won’t be able to compete consistently. Division I-A/FBS schools have an 85-scholarship limit and typically bring in around 25 recruits a year. The scholarship max at most I-AA/FCS programs is 65, and that’s what Penn State is facing.
Insert your own Appalachian State-Michigan joke here, but FCS teams wouldn’t consistently compete in the Big Ten. By November, they’d be campaigning for a running clock.
The transfer clause leaves O’Brien as a brand-new coach recruiting his own new players all over again, and that includes everyone from fifth-year seniors to incoming freshmen. We don’t know how many will leave immediately, but we can presume that at least some younger players will.
For a little perspective, Scout.com rated Penn State’s 19-man 2012 recruiting class as the 49th best in the country. It had one Scout.com top 100 player and 16 three-star players. The 2011 class ranked 34th nationally with two top-100 players and six four-star players.
There are plenty of talented players suddenly recruitable again by coaches nationwide who get paid to win football games. With the bowl ban and upcoming scholarship reductions, those players have some thinking to do.
Recruiting is an inexact science. Injuries are a big part of football, on every level in every year. Annual recruiting rankings like Scout.com’s mean little past the national holiday that National Signing Day has become, and coaches simply hope they “get it right” with more recruits than they don’t in developing productive players.
The odds of getting 15 right in a 25-man recruiting class are long. The odds of getting 12 right in a 15-man recruiting class of a school dealing with a bowl ban are almost impossibly long.
What blue-chip 2013 or 2014 recruit is going to truly consider Penn State with all of this ahead? Only a very brave, very committed one. Even when the scholarship restrictions end at Penn State, a full-scale football rebuilding project figures to await.
After the death penalty was handed down, SMU went from Southwest Conference power to longtime also-ran. SMU didn’t field a team in 1987 or 1988 and produced just one winning season over the next 20 years. It didn’t make a bowl game until 2009 and has played off the radar in the WAC and Conference USA since the inception of the Big 12.
SMU will join the Big East next year. In this era of unprecedented – there’s that word again – conference realignment and expansion, Penn State by 2015 (or maybe sooner) is essentially going to be an expansion team.
USC has weathered its storm because Lane Kiffin has been able to attract top recruits to Los Angeles and quarterback Matt Barkley chose to stay when it was announced that USC players could transfer without penalty.
With Kiffin and Barkley, the Trojans have still had a high-octane offense and multiple faces of the program to sell. Penn State quarterbacks last season had a 48 percent completion rate, threw for 177 yards per game and had a negative (10-to-12) touchdown to interception ratio.
Because it still has Barkley, an all-star receiving corps and a whole bunch of blue-chippers, USC returns to postseason eligibility this year with a legitimate shot of playing in the national championship game. The Trojans could have depth concerns if significant injuries were to occur as they’re still playing with just 75 scholarship players and 15 incoming recruits, but the talent for a big run is in place.
Imagine the irony of USC potentially adding depth to its 2012 roster with a Penn State transfer.
It’s not a leap to think the Trojans will inquire. So will Temple, and Akron, and Buffalo, and Syracuse, and West Virginia, and the list goes on.
It’s clear that Penn State, as a whole, will never be the same in the wake of this tragedy. These NCAA sanctions make it clear that any type of return to glory for Penn State’s under-new-management football program is a very, very long way away.