What happened this morning to Penn State? Well there are the facts, and then there are the implications. The facts are easy and straight forward; the implications take some imagination and research.
The facts: Penn State is penalized $60 million, banned from postseason play for four years, on probation for five, facing major scholarship restrictions for four years and is vacating all wins since 1998 (stripping Joe Paterno of his valued All-Time Wins record).
The implications: The NCAA and Big Ten didn’t use the words “death penalty” but if you read between the lines you’ll see these sanctions for what they are: scorched earth. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney said today the league “would support as much freedom as possible” in regards to players transferring out of the program. And what does that mean from arguably the most powerful person in collegiate sports? The Big Ten and NCAA are anticipating and supporting a complete program implosion in the near future. They are strategically decimating the program in hopes that Paterno’s legacy will be erased and the next decade will birth a new standard. Whether sanctions were the correct option or not, this was the only legitimate strategy to restore Penn State in the future.
What this means for the current team: Typically an athlete is not allowed to transfer within a conference, and if they do they are forced to sit a year and forfeit their scholarship. In Penn State’s case, players with desire to transfer within the conference are immediately eligible, can keep a scholarship, and not be counted against the school’s current scholarship limit (which is amazing). Although many current players are taking to social media and claiming they ”bleed blue and white”, many of them will transfer. I anticipate at least 15 players from the 2012-2013 team will leave. Seniors and juniors will probably ride it out in Happy Valley, but what incentive is there for incoming freshman and sophomores to stay at Penn State?
A free agent feeding frenzy started this morning and will blow away anything college football has seen. Believe me when I say every coaching staff worth their salt is reviewing Penn State’s current roster, making a wish list, and digging up their old recruiting connections and reaching out. New head coach Bill O’Brien (if he chooses to stay) will be left to put the pieces together and try to be competitive with an under-stocked roster and no incentive for wins. It’s not the current players or coaches fault, so you can’t blame them when they choose to join the mass exodus.
What it means for the future of the team: Recruiting is going to be tough at Penn State. Instead of Top 100 recruits Penn State is going to have to accept the marginal prospect that wants a chance to prove themselves in the Big Ten. Basically look through Rutgers 2013 recruiting class and accept that Penn State no longer has legitimate shot at those kids for the next three years. The cards have already started to fall with Penn State’s acclaimed recruiting class of 2013–already two highly ranked recruits have decommitted and moved along, and numerous others have tweeted or put up Facebook statuses hinting at opening up in the near future. Greg Webb, a Top 100 defensive tackle from New Jersey is a perfect example of what will happen to the 2013 class. Webb had offers from Alabama, Oklahoma, Michigan, Ohio State; ergo, he didn’t lack for interest. Webb was thrilled by Penn State and spurned all other offers, selecting Penn State this past winter. Over the weekend Webb read the tea leaves and broke his commitment, quickly switching allegiance to North Carolina; And you can’t blame him. A recruit wouldn’t be paddling to board a sinking ship, they would be diving to collect barnacles in the wreckage. By signing day this class will be decimated. This year’s team will be the best and most talented Penn State will likely be able to field until 2018.
What it means for the athletic department: The Sports Business Journal says that Penn State’s athletic department budget for 2012 was $92 million, the seventh largest in the country. Before factoring in money that will be l0st in donations, ticket sales, apparel and concessions, they also have to pay a fine of $60 million. So they are donating 2/3 of their average annual budget, crippling their Golden Goose and spreading the remainder amongst 29 Division 1 programs. At a school like Penn State the football program drives almost the entire athletic department, so without football the math doesn’t add up. It’s not out of the realm of possibility for Penn State to start cancelling sports programs they can’t properly fund. I told you, scorched earth.
What it means for the university: Successful basketball and football teams lead to a spike in applications. Between the football sanctions and the general stigma hanging over Penn State, how many potential applicants will look elsewhere? Penn State is not Harvard, but it does have a strong academic reputation that is propelled by accepting and enrolling accomplished students from Pennsylvania and the Northeast. Many of those students also see Penn State football as part of their educational identity. A drop in applications is certain for 2013, but without the prospective of a strong football team returning in years to come, how much will that rate drop? And when sanctions are lifted, how much infrastructure damage will Penn State have to weather? While endowment is ransacked in dealing with lawsuits and borrowing to support under funded programs, money will not be streaming in.
Joe Paterno is Caesar Augustus and Nero all rolled into one. He built one of college athletics greatest and most respected dynasties, but met a unique demise by fiercely protecting his own interests. The Paterno statue is gone, the Paterno legacy is only infamy, and the 109,000 seat Coliseum he built is a ruin.