One group of Big Ten Leaders Division players can relate to what Penn State is experiencing this season.
The NCAA smacked Ohio State with a one-year postseason ban because former coach Jim Tressel withheld information regarding multiple star players who swapped memorabilia for cash and tattoos.
The scandal cost Tressel his job and prevents the Buckeyes from participating in a Big Ten title or bowl game this season. The NCAA announced its sanctions against the Buckeyes, which also include scholarship reductions, last December.
New coach Urban Meyer compared the negativity surrounding the announcement to being slammed by a two-by-four.
As Meyer, an Ashtabula, Ohio, native, braces for his first season in the Big Ten, the welts are subsiding.
Meyer, who won two Bowl Championship Series titles at Florida, implemented a leadership committee. His senior class remained together despite knowing their season will end Nov. 24 against Michigan. Ohio States record, by the way, could be gaudy because of a favorable schedule consisting of eight home games.
It has definitely made our team tighter, senior defensive lineman John Simon said. I always say our team cant get any tighter, but every year it does.
Ohio State and Penn State players enter the season in similar spots, coping with a mess they didnt create. The Nittany Lions face a four-year postseason ban, which begins this season, because of the Universitys handling of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal. The Buckeyes are nine months into the sanction period. The Nittany Lions are only one month removed from the NCAAs bold announcement.
The teams meet Oct. 27 at Beaver Stadium. Some commentators are calling the game Ineligibowl 2, a sequel to last years Miami-Ohio State game, or the Sanction Showdown.
Ohio State senior fullback Zach Boren said ignoring such noise is one of the challenges facing Penn State players.
If one of their players came up to me and asked me about it, I would say we stuck together, Boren said. Obviously, the world is looking down on them, and the whole world was looking down on us when everything happened. You kind of have to have that us against the world mentality. When your brothers back you on the team and you have each others backs, it gets easier.
The sanctions havent tempered the Buckeyes expectations or altered their goals. Ohio State went 6-7 after losing their final four games last season. The closing stretch included a 20-14 loss to Penn State in Columbus.
Ohio State and Penn States postseason bans leave just four teams Wisconsin, Purdue, Illinois and Indiana competing for the Leaders Divisions spot in the Big Ten title game. The Badgers, who return
11 starters, including 1,900-yard rusher Montee Ball, are a prohibitive favorite to reach Indianapolis.
Wisconsin defeated Michigan State 42-39 in last years inaugural title game.
Im not blind and oblivious to the fact that now were in a division that has six teams, Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. Only four of them are eligible for the Big Ten championship game. But it really wont change our approach.
The Legends Division isnt infractions-free. Nebraska and Michigan enter this season on probation. Nebraskas penalty is self-imposed after its compliance department discovered student-athletes received recommended textbooks. The NCAA placed Michigan under probation for three years because former coach Rich Rodriguez exceeded practice-hour restrictions.
But the Cornhuskers, Wolverines and the Legends Divisions other four teams are eligible for postseason play. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said the current inequities between the divisions might be enough reason for athletic directors and commissioner Jim Delany to explore alternative title game selection models.
From a macro and a big picture standpoint, maybe our division winner should automatically be in the championship game, Fitzgerald said. Then, you take the other teams that are eligible and we put a committee together, the 12 ADs and Commissioner Delany as the 13th vote. That would make a little bit of sense to me.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke called having two ineligible teams in the same division such an unbelievable circumstance.
And Im sure Commissioner Delany and everyone else didnt see this coming, Hoke added. But at the same time, lifes not fair. And whether its fair or not, it doesnt matter. We have a schedule to play.
Guy Cipriano can be reached at 231-4643. Follow him on Twitter @cdtguy