Loss of scholarships will cripple Penn State team

Penn Staters listen to the NCAA's announcement of penalties at the Hub, the student activities center on the campus in State College.
Penn Staters listen to the NCAA's announcement of penalties at the Hub, the student activities center on the campus in State College. (ED HILLE / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 25, 2012

A dramatic hit to football scholarships, one part of the long list of sanctions levied on Penn State Monday, is likely to have a harsh and lingering impact on the kinds of teams the Lions put on the field for the rest of this decade.

As part of the sanctions agreed on by NCAA president Mark Emmert and Penn State president Rodney Erickson, Penn State football will be limited to 15 scholarships per class from the 2013-2014 academic year through 2016-2017, and cannot exceed 65 scholarship players from the 2014 season through the end of the 2017 season.

While the 2018 team will be eligible for 85 scholarships, Penn State won't have a team made up of four classes recruited at the usual 25 scholarships until 2020.

Recruiting a team with fewer scholarships is a major blow on its own, but, coupled with the other sanctions, it might make Penn State a seriously wounded opponent for years.

First-year head coach Bill O'Brien will be forced to recruit smaller classes and find a way to convince high school football players that a career with a compromised roster and without bowl appearances is a great option.

O'Brien's last college recruiting experience, before joining Penn State, was as the offensive coordinator for Duke in 2006.

Now Penn State's success is dependent on O'Brien's ability to talk current recruits and players into staying and persuading future high school stars to join him at Penn State - despite the sanctions.

Penn State's challenging future already is here. The players on his current roster are now eligible to transfer immediately to other schools and play in the 2012 season. O'Brien signed 19 players on Feb. 1; now he has to persuade them to keep their commitments. He must deal with all of that as he recruits the 2013 class.

However, it's the scholarship hit that will linger and hurt Penn State.

The players to be recruited to join Penn State as freshmen in 2020, the first players to make up a full squad of scholarship players, are currently in fifth grade.

Penn State is not the first school to face major NCAA and conference sanctions.

In 1997, the University of Miami lost 31 scholarships over two years. Four seasons later, the 2001 Hurricanes won the national championship and are considered one of the greatest college football teams of all time.

Last winter, the NCAA levied sanctions on Ohio State that will keep the Buckeyes from a bowl appearance this coming season and force them to forfeit nine scholarships over the next three seasons.

The sanctions that hit Miami and Ohio State - serious but more garden-variety NCAA infractions - did not create the kind of stains on their reputations that the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal threatens to leave on Penn State's reputation. Miami's and Ohio State's transgressions were lower hurdles to recovery than what confronts Penn State.

Another severe obstacle to a return to football glory would be a dozen years of lopsided losses. The Big Ten is an unforgiving football conference. It's virtually impossible for a team to contend in the Big Ten with a roster of two- and three-star recruits.

Southern Methodist University is the only school to suffer the so-called death penalty - being forced to sit out an entire season.

SMU has never fully recovered from missing the 1987 and 1988 seasons. The Mustangs failed to have a winning season for the next 20 years.

The sanctions Penn State received are unprecedented, likely worse than the death penalty. Penn State must cope with a crippling set of sanctions that will injure the program at least for the rest of the decade.

Multimedia coverage of the crisis at Penn State can be found at www.philly.com/sandusky

Contact Chad Graff at cgraff@philly.com and follow him on Twitter @ChadGraff.

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