Penn State football: Nittany Lions weigh in on pay-for-play issues

tjohnson@centredaily.comJuly 25, 2013 

— Penn State players in attendance at Big Ten Media Days have no plans to join Ed O’Bannon as plaintiffs in the former Division I basketball player’s lawsuit against the NCAA that seeks compensation for the use of players’ likenesses.

That doesn’t mean the Nittany Lions aren’t opposed to the idea of college football players one day earning some sort of pay for their services as companies like Electronic Arts — the manufacturer of the popular NCAA video game franchise — use their names and faces in future games.

“I believe that student athletes, especially ones from big conferences such as the Big Ten, I think we’re understandably biased to be perfectly honest,” Penn State offensive lineman John Urschel said.

So far, six current players have joined O’Bannon’s lawsuit with two of them being Minnesota players. The two Golden Gopher players that joined O’Bannon’s suit last week — tight end Moses Alipate and wide receiver Victor Keise — were not among the trio of players Minnesota coach Jerry Kill brought with him to the two-day event.

But Penn State seniors Urschel and safety Malcolm Willis addressed the lawsuit when asked, voicing differing levels of support for future players.

“I know it’s not going to apply to me at all. If something does happen, I won’t argue with players getting paid but it really doesn’t matter to me,” Willis said. “I don’t do anything to get paid. I put in a lot of work but it’s all for the love of the game.”

So far the strongest opinion on the matter has come from Penn State junior Deion Barnes. The defensive end took to Twitter to air his thoughts on the matter before Media Days began.

“The first years I was excited to have myself on NCAA football but now I (sic) c they making money off me and everybody on that game, I need a chec,” Barnes tweeted.

The NCAA opted out of its contract with EA Sports for future games but individual schools and conferences can opt back in through licensing agent Collegiate Licensing Company, USA Today reported.

Barnes’ tweets were met with support from those in agreement and disdain by those who disagreed. The common argument against college players receiving payments is that they get to attend school for free on scholarship. But not every player is on scholarship and even the ones who are have little time to earn money for other expenses due to their nearly year-round commitments to their programs.

“It’s hard for a Penn State athlete to work out as much as we do and go to class, to make sure we’re on time for every class and to get all of our schoolwork done,” Willis said. “So if we were to put in another commitment such as a part-time job in there, I doubt it would work out, especially during the football season. It would practically be impossible.”

Urschel, one of the team’s brightest players who is working toward his masters degree and has been called a model of time management by his teammates, agreed.

“I couldn’t possibly imagine any of us getting a part-time job,” Urschel said. “That wouldn’t even be manageable.”

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany weighed in after a lengthy opening statement on Wednesday saying he doesn’t feel O’Bannon’s lawsuit “represents the best interests of intercollegiate athletics.”

Only time will tell, and Delany said he sees a long legal battle ahead as the O’Bannon suit moves forward.

“I don't know how it will be resolved. It will be litigated. And I think it will be litigated all the way to the Supreme Court, if the plaintiffs are successful,” Delany said. “I don't think there's any compromise on that. And I don't know what the Supreme Court would do.”

Gilliam, Obeng-Agyapong ready for camp

Bill O’Brien said he expects Garry Gilliam and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong to be full participants when training camp begins on Aug. 5.

Gilliam, who switched to offensive tackle and has gained nearly 35 pounds after playing tight end last season, sat out most of spring practice with a calf injury. O’Brien said he expects Gilliam to push for ample playing time and even could challenge Adam Gress and Donovan Smith — both players ahead of him on the depth chart — for a starting spot at either tackle position.

“Missing the spring, that wasn’t the greatest thing in the world for him but he is athletic,” O’Brien said of Gilliam. “He’s smart, he’s tough so you’ve just got to hit the ground running in training camp. There’s a lot of things he did at tight end that are similar to what he’ll do at tackle.”

Obeng-Agyapong tore his labrum in the third game last season and started every game afterward. At times it made tackling excruciating he said and the senior safety waited until a week after the season finale to have surgery. He participated in walk-throughs during spring ball but was held out of contact drills as he was still recovering.

That won’t be the case in two weeks.

“They’re fully healthy,” O’Brien said.

Just come see it

Sometimes the best recruiters aren’t coaches. They’re landscapes, state-of-the-art facilities and opportunities for future personal growth.

So far, O’Brien and his staff have seen numerous highly regarded prospects visit Penn State and fall in love with the campus, its layout and offerings.

“Recruiting has gone well for us,” O’Brien said. “Time will tell what type of players these guys turn out to be. Once you get a guy on campus at Penn State, that’s a big sell. They get there, they meet the student body, they see the stadium, they see all the great things that Penn State has to offer academically.”

Hampered by NCAA sanctions, Penn State can still add at least two more players to its 2014 class but must be down to 65 scholarships by the start of the 2014 campaign. Currently Penn State has 67 scholarship players on its roster. Anthony Stanko and Luke Graham — former offensive linemen who left the team but remain enrolled at Penn State meaning their scholarships still count — bring Penn State’s total to 69 scholarships.

O’Brien wouldn’t mind if some more future recruits find their way to Happy Valley from the Buckeye state. Recruiting coordinator Charles London said in February that Ohio has become a major focus for Penn State.

“There’s a lot of Division I players in Ohio and they can’t all go to Ohio State,” O’Brien said. “As the years go on it comes down to how many guys can you sign. That factors in but as the years go on we’d certainly like to get more players from Ohio at Penn State.”

No plans on redshirts

It is still too early for O’Brien to make a call on which true freshmen will redshirt this season.

While it is likely O’Brien will opt to sit most of his incoming linemen — players at that position require more time to add the bulk necessary to play at the collegiate level — he would not name anyone specifically on Thursday.

“You should be careful about it, unless you have to (play them) because of injuries (to starters),” O’Brien said. “I’ll have to see how training camp goes. I haven’t made up my mind yet on most of the guys.”

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