Penn State football: Big Ten coaches praise Penn State for surviving NCAA sanctions

CDT photo

Kirk Ferentz prefaced his thoughts on the NCAA’s sanctions on Penn State with a disclaimer.

The Iowa football coach made sure to say it was just his opinion before wondering out loud if he should even voice it on the Big Ten coaches’ teleconference Tuesday.

He then offered his thoughts on the challenges Penn State faced under former coach Bill O’Brien the last two seasons before the NCAA announced Monday it was lifting the final two years of the bowl ban and restoring all scholarships for the Nittany Lions’ 2015 season.

“I thought it was an unfortunate situation on a lot of fronts,” Ferentz said. “And most unfortunate for the players on the football team and really an unbelievable challenge for Bill O’Brien and his staff to walk into a situation where the sanctions had got passed — not only restricting them from playing in bowls but also it was open season.

“People were in there trying to recruit guys on their roster, so it’s an unbelievable situation. I think Bill O’Brien doesn’t get near enough credit for what he did. I can’t even begin to describe how big of a challenge that must have been, so he did a phenomenal job.”

In July 2012, the NCAA banned Penn State from postseason play for four years and reduced its scholarships by 25 to 15 per year until the 2016-17 season as part of the sanctions. Players were also given the option to transfer without sitting out a year, leading to opposing coaches trying to recruit players. O’Brien led the Nittany Lions to a 15-9 record in two seasons before leaving to become the Houston Texans head coach in January.

Coach James Franklin’s Nittany Lions can now play in a bowl game and qualify for the Big Ten championship game this season.

On Tuesday, Big Ten coaches reacted to the NCAA’s decision to end Penn State’s postseason ban and restore its scholarships.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke said it was a good day for the Nittany Lions and the conference.

“I think it’s really good for them and it’s good for their kids,” Hoke said. “You hate to see kids miss out on opportunities and experiences, especially when they have nothing to do with the situation and what happened. So as a conference, we’ve got a lot of respect and always have for Penn State and kids who play there and the university.

“So is it good for the Big Ten? Yes, it is.”

Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen echoed that sentiment.

“I think it’s good,” Andersen said. “You want everybody in your conference to be competing at the same level and have the same opportunities.”

The NCAA’s decision has an immediate effect on Penn State’s recruiting efforts.

The Nittany Lions will have a full allotment of 85 scholarships next season. Penn State is currently ranked eighth in the country by with 19 commitments for the Class of 2015.

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer gave perspective on the obstacles in recruiting with a reduced number of scholarships.

The Buckeyes lost a total of nine scholarships over three seasons from 2012-14, penalties handed down after violations stemming from players taking money and tattoos for memorabilia.

“It’s an anchor around your neck as you’re sitting there during the recruiting when you have those meetings, you see you don’t have enough spots left to take some of the players you want to take,” Meyer said. “... We lived it. That’s a big thing that, that restriction’s over.”

Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said he didn’t discuss the news surrounding Penn State with his team as it prepares to face the Nittany Lions this Saturday.

“I didn’t relay it to my team because I really don’t think it has any bearing on the game that we’re playing this week,” Flood said. “I did hear about it. I don’t know that I had a reaction to it. I don’t know all the specifics of how it happened.”

Ferentz recounted some of the history dating back to the start of the sanctions in 2012, and he recalled playing Penn State that fall.

The Nittany Lions won that game 38-14. He was impressed by the leadership on that Penn State team.

“It shows you how young people can really respond to things that may not be fair,” Ferentz said.

“Hopefully it’s a chapter that everybody’s moving away from now,” Ferentz added. “But it’s just one of those things you would hope nobody would have to go through.”