UNIVERSITY PARK — There were no players gathered around TV sets this time around, no bursts of white-hot outrage, no sullen faces after watching news unfold that left them shaken, shocked and unsure of their futures.
This time, only a quiet satisfaction spread through the ranks of the Penn State football team.
Soon players were off to practice, and most of them found out on Twitter and other social media sites that the NCAA had reduced the sanctions levied against their program last July on a hot summer day where most of the team had gathered inside the Lasch Building to watch the chaos unfold.
“Obviously, it’s positive for Penn State as a whole and also for the team,” running back Akeel Lynch said. “We’re just focused on this bye week and making sure we use it to get healthy and prepare for Indiana the week after that. It’s a very tough opponent.”
Players who hadn’t heard about the NCAA’s decision to renew five scholarships to Penn State’s total allotment in time for the 2014-15 season learned about the development at a team meeting shortly before an afternoon practice.
“It’s definitely good news for the university and the team,” kicker Sam Ficken said. “That’s something that was important to us with all those scholarships, but at the same time for this team we’re focused on this year so we’re not keying too much on it.”
When the NCAA dropped the sanctions on the Penn State program more than a year ago, the governing organization hit the Nittany Lions with a $60 million dollar fine, four-year bowl ban and drastic scholarship reductions. A transfer waiver, which permitted players to defect to another FBS program without losing a year of eligibility, and the scholarship reductions were seen as the harshest of the penalties as they would undoubtedly impact the team’s depth and on-field performance.
A handful of players left — including standout tailback Silas Redd, starting kicker Anthony Fera and senior wide receiver Justin Brown.
Lynch hadn’t even played a down at Penn State yet, and he along with others, took some time to contemplate their futures.
“I was obviously shocked and I didn’t know what to do,” Lynch said. “I took time out. I took a couple of weeks to gather my thoughts. I thought about the bigger picture over the long run because I know college is only for four years but wherever you go to college can impact you for the next 40 years.”
So Lynch, who has three more years of eligibility after this season, talked to a few Penn State alums.
“(They) said that Penn State was the best choice because after football was done, even if they didn’t go in the NFL or they did go to the NFL the next step after football was amazing,” Lynch said. “So that’s the reason why I stayed.”
Defensive tackle Austin Johnson was in the same boat. Johnson, also a member of the 2012 recruiting class, had yet to suit up for the Nittany Lions.
Academics swayed Johnson as did the chance to play for defensive line coach Larry Johnson
“Throughout everything, I’m happy that I stayed,” Johnson said. “It’s a great team and I love everybody on this team and we’re having a good time playing football together.”
And while the scholarships are being restored — Penn State will be able to carry a full compliment of 85 scholarship players in time for the 2016-17 season — and the transfer waiver has expired, the Nittany Lions still face a bowl ban for the next three seasons.
That could change, however, as NCAA President Mark Emmert did not rule out the possibility the bowl ban could be lifted.
Penn State players aren’t depending on it to brighten their outlooks.
“We only can focus on things we can control,” Lynch said. “That’s in the NCAA’s hands right now. We don’t really know what’s going on with that.”