Big Ten coaches divided on pursuit of Penn State players

Posted: July 27, 2012

CHICAGO - The recruitment of Penn State's current players by other coaches was a hot topic Thursday at Big Ten football media day, so hot that Illinois head coach Tim Beckman sought to set the record straight on his team's involvement with the Nittany Lions during his opening remarks.

It was reported that six assistant coaches of the Fighting Illini were in State College to talk to players and actually had crossed paths Wednesday with Lions coach Bill O'Brien at the airport. But Beckman insisted that they never set foot on campus.

"We only talked to individuals that would be willing to meet with us," Beckman said. "We did not go after them. They have the opportunity to come to us if they would like to come to us and speak to us. That's how we handled the situation. So I did want to bring that out front.

"We were in State College, but we didn't go on campus. We established two places outside of the campus and called individuals and told them if they wanted to come by, it was their opportunity to come by."

Beckman's comments were the latest chapter in the odd series of events following the NCAA's imposition of sanctions against Penn State on Monday for the lack of action by the late Joe Paterno and other officials toward former assistant Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted last month of 45 counts of child sexual abuse.

A change in NCAA rules involving transfers has allowed any Penn State player to transfer without having to sit out a year, and any school wishing to speak with a Nittany Lion can do so as long as it notifies the university. Beckman said he had offered the proper notification.

O'Brien was rather tight-lipped with his thoughts on the subject.

"The rules are what they are," he said. "It's like NFL free agency without the rules. So they can do what they want as long as they tell our compliance office that they're contacting these kids. It is what it is. So I don't really have anything to say about it."

But senior linebacker Michael Mauti, one of the more outspoken Nittany Lions, was not as reluctant to speak about the situation. On Wednesday, players complained of not being able to leave their apartments or the Lasch Football Building for fear of running into a coach from another school.

"I heard that other coaches were waiting outside of the Nittany Apartments, waiting outside of the classrooms, waiting outside of Lasch," Mauti said. "There's coaches from the Big Ten that were there.

"There's no wrongdoing as far as legally here. But at the same time, if you're going to wish us well, and then try to take our kids, then I've got a problem with that."

Purdue coach Danny Hope appeared to be an active recruiter, saying he would "exercise every option we can to enhance our football team." Nebraska's Bo Pellini and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio said that while they weren't going after players, they would listen to anyone who sought to transfer.

However, coaches Bret Bielema of Wisconsin and Pat Fitzgerald of Northwestern said they were not reaching out.

"I'm not casting doubt on anybody or questioning anything," Bielema said, "but we made a decision that we would not actively pursue any Penn State players."

He said he wanted the 105 players reporting for preseason practice "to understand and believe that I think they can help us win another [Big Ten] championship. To bring someone in at this point so close to the season, I just wasn't comfortable with that."

Fitzgerald said his decision not to reach out to Penn State players had to do with "things we're going to do and stand for as a program."

"There may be free agency created by rule and by regulation, but we're not going to be a part of it," he said. "We believe in our team that we have. We're excited about our team."

Nittany notes. As a player and head coach at Northwestern, Fitzgerald had received much praise and respect from Paterno. Fitzgerald said Thursday that professionally, he was "very thankful for the generosity Coach gave me." But he said that since the Sandusky arrest in November, "it's unfortunate to see the disappointing aspects of leadership at the university."

"It's a tough situation, but it far, far pales in comparison to the terrible tragedy of those young people, to the loss of their innocence, and to their families. Our focus is obviously to lift them in our thoughts and prayers. I hope that through this tragedy, our society is able to grow from it, and hopefully we'll never see it happen again."


Contact Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @joejulesinq.

 

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