Gears grinding underneath a car hood, blood coursing through unseen veins and accumulating high school football talent on college campuses. Their connection? The latter in each instance requires the former to thrive. Recruiting sustains traditional powerhouse programs with the players necessary to compete annually for conference championships. When an athletic department receives a sizable NCAA penalty, it’s not an exact science to believe recruits suddenly shun the university. Lane Kiffin brilliantly wades through a sea of sanctions with Southern California threatening a run at the national title and as of today, the top-ranked 2013 class.
So when the NCAA drops the Hammer of Emmert on Penn State Monday morning, the consternation and sympathy will be for the players already on campus but those committed to a future in State College embody a similarly empathetic role. First-year head coach Bill O’Brien seized an opportunity to sell a premier Big Ten program and thus far in this recruiting cycle, it’s worked. Ranked 17th by 247 Sports, the Nittany Lions haven’t experienced an exodus of interest but tomorrow afternoon, it seems likely to begin.
4-star quarterback Christian Hackenberg remains committed to Penn State but his father told ESPN that he’ll have a conversation with his son following the announcement of punishment. Multi-year scholarship losses are a given. A similar term of years probably applies to the bowl ban. And the fines, oh the money, that NCAA President Mark Emmert plans to dock the Nittany Lions is a decent bet to wow casual followers of a sport that bathes in Ben Franklin’s.
As the bomb-riddled athletic department assesses the damage, so too will the Penn State commits. 5-star offensive tackle Dorian Johnson‘s phone won’t stop ringing with coaches offering a softer landing than the one he’s promised in Happy Valley. 4-star tight end Adam Breneman continually supports his college choice publicly, does a career without a bowl game or title opportunity allow doubt to creep in?
The situation, the cover-up and the sanctions illuminate the toxicity drowning State College at the moment. Penn State simply can’t get out of the news. Recruiting is the oasis, a mirage of hope and eyes toward a brighter, less uncomfortable future.
An unprecedented response from the NCAA might snatch that dream from a legion of Nittany Lions and their fans.