That's why they're called penalties. These are the repercussions, when something as horrific as the Jerry Sandusky tragedy is allowed to happen on your watch. It's the institution that's being reprimanded. The current players and staff members have to bear the brunt of that. That's the way this stuff usually works.
You think the players at Southern California, who were on probation the last 2 years, had anything to do with that house for Reggie Bush's parents? Or that the ones at Southern Methodist, when a season was taken away from them in the mid-1980s, received any of those "Pony Express" booster benefits? We could go on. By the time punishments are set, the individuals responsible are usually no longer around. So in that regard, Penn State is hardly unique, even if the circumstances that led to all this are.
For the time being, just holding everything together becomes Job One, since there's almost too much damage to control. Especially for a place that's never had to confront any kind of sanctions before.
Recruiting is the lifeblood of any program. The more good players you can get, the better your chances are of succeeding. When you have fewer scholarships to offer, the margin for error decreases. Your depth is compromised. As is your ability to attract the type of prospects who tend to separate the Wake Forests from the Oklahomas of the food chain.
How many kids who have big-time options will choose a place that can't even compete for a conference title until just past the middle of this decade? You don't need a recruiting guru to answer that. To a teenager, 4 years is forever. So how do you overcome the reality? That's O'Brien's biggest obstacle, no matter how good of a coach he might turn out to be. He has to sell enough talent on the fact that they can be part of the process of getting this thing back to where it once was.
Fact is, O'Brien might not be able to convince all the players he does have to remain. Ditto early verbal commitments for the recruiting class of 2013. It's probably too close to the season for anyone to consider leaving immediately, but?…?
Joe Paterno could sell himself, and all that encompassed. That no longer applies. There always will be kids who want to go to Penn State, for any number of reasons. Yet when it comes to the ones you really have to entice, maybe beat out the Ohio States and Michigans for, well the ground rules have changed. That doesn't mean Penn State will never be able to win those battles in the future. But it doesn't figure to happen anymore … just because.
And that's where it mostly has to begin.
It took SMU way too long to recover from its problems, which is probably one reason why the death penalty has never been used again. But Penn State isn't necessarily SMU, either. USC got hit with some serious penalties, yet in his third season, Lane Kiffin has the Trojans, despite their lack of overall roster numbers, in the conversation of national-title contenders. And in another sport, Kentucky's basketball team went from that infamous "Shame" Sports Illustrated headline to one Christian Laettner shot away from making it to the Final Four in a relatively short time period, once Rick Pitino took over.
For Penn State, the process won't be painless. There will be struggles. But it doesn't have to be a death sentence. At first, the steps forward might be small. Yet they're steps that must be taken nonetheless. In moments like these, it's the only way. O'Brien didn't create this mess. He's simply the one who has to raise the ship, little by little, over time.
Contact Mike Kern at email@example.com.
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