‘We Were… Penn State’: Sanctions debilitate, cripple Nittany Lions

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Right or wrong, or how such a precedent will impact the future of the sport, NCAA president Mark Emmert, at the discretion of his bosses, took the unprecedented step Monday of leveling historic sanctions on the Penn State football program.

There will be days and weeks and months — hell, even years — to digest and debate whether a criminal matter that will bleed into civil litigation should fall under the purview of the NCAA.

What’s not up for debate and needs little digestion? The sanctions levied against the school’s football team are staggering in scope and potential to impact the program for a decade, if not much, much longer.

The fines and loss in revenue totaling roughly $73 million — a $60 million fine from the NCAA and the loss of $13 million in Big Ten bowl revenue, all of which will go to charities to benefit victims of child sex abuse — as well as the four-year bowl ban drew a majority of the headlines, but it was two other provisions in the sanctions that have the potential to damage the Nittany Lions for the long haul.

First and foremost, the Nittany Lions were stripped of dozens of scholarships, beginning next year, over the next four years, as well as a cap on the number of scholarship players on its roster beginning in 2014. From the NCAA’s release:

For a period of four years commencing with the 2013-2014 academic year and expiring at the conclusion of the 2016-2017 academic year, the NCAA imposes a limit of 15 initial grants-in-aid (from a maximum of 25 allowed) and for a period of four years commencing with the 2014-2015 academic year and expiring at the conclusion of the 2017-2018 academic year a limit of 65 total grants-in-aid (from a maximum of 85 allowed) for football during each of those specified years. In the event the total number of grants-in-aid drops below 65, the University may award grants-in-aid to non-scholarship student-athletes who have been members of the football program as allowed under Bylaw 15.5.6.3.6.

For perspective, FCS football programs are permitted 63 scholarship players in any given year.  As we noted earlier, Penn State football will essentially be an FCS program in terms of size for several years, and yet will be facing Big Ten and nonconference opponents with the full complement of 85 scholarship players.

Recruiting experts are already weighing in on the long row to hoe the first-year coaching staff will face now and on down the road, because of both the scholarship losses and postseason ban.

“Kids want to go to college to play in championship games and the postseason,” Rivals.com Midwest recruiting analyst Josh Helmholdt said. “Now that it’s been taken off the table, it’s just going to absolutely destroy Penn State’s recruiting ability in the short term. Certainly when you reduce scholarships, that hurts recruiting because you can’t recruit as many players. But when you’re talking about how kids view Penn State as a potential place to play football, not having a chance to play in the postseason for pretty much the duration or a large chunk of their career is going to be a huge, huge deterrent.”

There was even more gloom from another of the recruiting website’s experts.

“The sanctions change everything,” national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said. “The sanctions are the one thing I said way back when could splinter this class and could ruin future classes. That’s what kids care about. The scandal itself hurt recruiting last year, but it wasn’t going to stop kids from going to Penn State. Sanctions will do that.”

While that’s bad enough, another stipulation contained in the sanctions could be even more damaging, at least in the short-term.  Again, from the NCAA’s release:

  • Football student-athletes who transfer will not have to sit out a year of competition. Any incoming or currently enrolled football student-athlete will be immediately eligible upon transfer or initial enrollment at an NCAA institution, provided they are admitted and otherwise eligible per NCAA regulations.
  • Penn State will release any incoming student-athletes from the National Letter of Intent.
  • Permission-to-contact rules will be suspended. Penn State cannot restrict in any way a student-athlete from pursuing a possible transfer. Student-athletes must simply inform Penn State of their interest in discussing transfer options with other schools. Interested schools also must inform Penn State of their intention to open discussions with the student-athlete.
  • Official and unofficial visit rules will be loosened. Any incoming or currently enrolled football student-athletes interested in taking an official or unofficial visit will be permitted to do so during the 2012-13 academic year, no matter how many visits they took during their recruitment. Institutions seeking to provide an official visit to a student who already visited the school as many times as NCAA legislation allows can seek relief from the NCAA on a case-by-case basis.

In other words, the NCAA has declared it’s open season on any and all current or incoming Penn State players, essentially creating a free-agent frenzy that has the potential to utterly dwarf what transpired at USC three years ago.  In the case of the Trojans, any junior or senior was permitted to transfer with no restrictions; a Penn State player in any class — including incoming freshmen — is now free to leave the school.

Additionally, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany heavily intimated during a teleconference Monday morning that players will likely be permitted to transfer within the conference  as well, further exacerbating the program’s plight.  For some reason, I get the feeling that the likes of Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and Michigan Brady Hoke have already perused PSU’s roster and commenced a game of “need it… got it… need it… need it… got it…”

Commitments to future recruiting classes are also in jeopardy, with one verbal from the Class of 2013 decommitting within minutes of the sanctions being made public.

“It was headed for a top-15 class,” Farrell said of the group of 2013 commits PSU had previously landed. “Now all bets are off.”

The lone saving grace for head coach Bill O’ Brien , who reiterated his commitment to the school earlier?  As of a couple of hours after the announcement of the sanctions, it was still unclear how many if any players would or will take advantage of the liberal transfer rules, although one PSU athletic official told CFT today that they are “bracing for a dozen or more” departures in the coming days and weeks.

In the run-up to today’s announcement, one report stated that Penn State may have preferred the death penalty over what was about to hit them.  While that’s still a stretch — just ask SMU about the long-lasting impact of shuttering the football program for a year or two — it’s certainly not as laughable a notion as it first appeared.

The sum total of the sanctions that slammed headfirst into Penn State today portends a decade of climbing out of the scholarship/transfer hole.  Regardless of whether it takes X number of years north or south of a decade to rebuild Penn State, the football program, one thing seems certain: Penn State, the university, will never ever be the same, regardless of what happens on a field a hundred yards long.

And, based on the Freeh report, that may very well be the best thing to come out of this whole sordid saga of pedophilia and cover-ups and putting a football program — and its legendary head coach — above young victims of sexual abuse.

As for the football program itself, the entity that has become synonymous with the university, there will be several operative words attached to it for the next several years and beyond.

“Rebuilding.”  “Adapting.”  “Moving forward.”

And, perhaps most importantly, “irrelevant.”  Given what 10 or more victims went through at the hands of a former Penn State assistant and convicted serial pedophile, for them that’s very much apropos.

No. 5 Wisconsin remains perfect after win against Maryland

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You can probably pencil in No. 5 Wisconsin (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) to be representing the Big Ten West Division in the Big Ten championship game if you have not already. After taking care of Maryland (3-4, 1-3 Big Ten) today in Madison, the Badgers are well on their way to Indianapolis for a second straight season with a 38-13 victory giving the Badgers a two-game cushion in the loss column. The chances anybody catches them are getting slimmer by the week. The question is quickly becoming whether or not Wisconsin will be 12-0 when they get to Indy.

Freshman sensation Jonathan Taylor continues to roll up the rushing yardage with another 100-yard afternoon (126 yards, 1 TD). Alex Hornibrook also passed for 225 yards and a pair of touchdowns to help the Badgers offense pull away. Wisconsin may have had a couple of turnovers in the first half that didn’t hurt them (Maryland managed just one short field goal after taking over at the Wisconsin five-yard line), but the Badgers were efficient on third downs (6-of-10). Maryland struggled on third downs against one of the top defense sin the Big Ten, which was to be expected, but Maryland did convert two fourth-down opportunities to keep drives alive.

Maryland just could not manage to play a clean enough game, could not take advantage of any opportunities presented to them by Wisconsin, or avoid costly penalties. In the end, Maryland was just outmatched against the heavy favorites in the West Division, and Maryland is once again sent home with a rough loss on the road against one of the Big Ten’s top programs.  Since joining the Big Ten, Maryland is 0-3 against the Badgers, and 0-2 in Madison.

Wisconsin has now won 13 consecutive regular season games dating back to last season (Wisconsin lost the Big Ten championship game against Penn State, which should be considered a postseason game.

Wisconsin will play their next two games in Big Ten play on the road. Next week the Badgers head to Illinois (2-4 coming into today) and then Wisconsin makes a trip to Indiana (entering today 3-3, but 0-3 in Big Ten play with losses to Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan). If Wisconsin avoids an upset on the road, then the fate of a potential undefeated regular season is put on the line with home games against Iowa and Michigan. The Badgers already have a two-game lead in the loss column in the Big Ten West Division and appear ready to make a return trip to Indianapolis. What the stakes will be beyond a Big Ten title remain to be seen, but the Badgers are not fading out of the College Football Playoff picture anytime soon.

For Maryland, the chance to become bowl eligible is becoming more of a challenge that may require the Terrapins to pull an upset at home against either Michigan or Penn State in November. Maryland still needs three wins and must win their next two in order to keep the dream alive before the final three games of the season against the Wolverines, at Michigan State, and home against the Nittany Lions. Maryland hosts Indiana next week and travels to Rutgers after that.

In upending Texas Tech, Iowa State off to best start since 2002

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Very quietly, Matt Campbell is doing some high-quality work in Ames.

Thanks in large part to quarterback Kyle Kempt and an opportunistic, oft-times stifling defense, Iowa State went to Texas Tech Saturday afternoon and stole a 31-13 Homecoming Game win off the Red Raiders.  The Cyclones jumped out to a 24-6 halftime lead, and weren’t really challenged in the last two quarters in winning for just the second time ever in Lubbock.

After an early interception practically handed Tech its first touchdown, Kempt righted the passing ship by throwing three touchdown passes — all in the first half — in the win.  Defensively, the Cyclones held a Red Raiders offense that came in seventh nationally in yards per game at 543.7 to 336 yards.  The 13 points were a season-low for Tech, surpassing the 27 scored in the Week 3 win over Houston.

With the win, ISU improved to 5-2 on the season.  It’s their best start to a campaign since Dan McCarney‘s Cyclones started 2002 6-1 en route to a 7-7 season.

Taking over a program that won just eight games combined the previous three seasons, the Cyclones went 3-9 in Campbell’s first season last year.  In addition to beating a Tech team that was 4-2 coming in, ISU knocked off then-No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman a couple of weeks ago for the football program’s biggest win in years.

With one more win, Campbell will have the Cyclones bowl-eligible for the first time since 2012.

WATCH: Tim Tebow gives 36.5-point underdog Tennessee passionate pep talk ahead of Alabama game

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You know it’s bad when a former rival of yours feels the need to pump you up.

To say this has been a rough start to the season for Butch Jones and Tennessee would be a massive understatement.  In Week 3, they stole defeat from the jaws of victory in a rivalry loss to Florida.  A week later at home, they barely (17-13) got past a UMass team that enters this weekend winless.  The following week, they were embarrassed and humiliated in a 41-0 woodshedding by Georgia.  Week 7 brought a stinging loss to South Carolina.

At 3-3 overall and an unacceptable 0-3 in SEC play, Jones’ coaching seat is fully engulfed in flames, with nary a fireman in sight.  Enter one-time Volunteers nemesis Tim Tebow — record vs. Vols: 4-0 — with the former Florida quarterback-turned SEC Network analyst offering up a passionate message directed at UT ahead of its showdown with rival Alabama.

‘Bama opened as a 35-point favorite; with kickoff a little over an hour away, that number is up to 36.5.

Bovada.lv told CFT earlier this week that, over the last 31 years, the Vols have never been as large of an underdog as they are right now. Prior to a 23-13 loss, they were 30- point underdogs to Tebow-quarterbacked Florida in 2009. In 2011 and 2013, they were 29- and 28-point underdogs, respectively, to Alabama. They ended up losing both contests, 37-6 in the former and 45-10 in the latter.

In the previous 99 meetings between the rival programs, the Vols have lost by 35 or more points exactly four times. The first came in 1906 (51-0), the second in 1963 (35-0). The last two times? The 2013 game mentioned above and 2016 (49-10).

Big 12 upset brewing in Austin? Longhorns tied 7-7 with Oklahoma State at half

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Don’t hit the upset alarm just yet, but No. 10 Oklahoma State is in a bit of a defensive battle on the road against the Texas Longhorns. After one half of play, the Cowboys and Longhorns are knotted at seven points apiece to set the stage for an interesting second half of play in Austin.

J.D. King gave Oklahoma State a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on a seven-yard touchdown run. It came on Oklahoma State’s third possession of the game and at the end of a 96-yard drive. The next time the Cowboys had the football, another long drive for points was stalled when Justice Hill lost a fumble at the Texas 14-yard line. The Longhorns capitalized on the turnover by orchestrating a quick three-play 86-yard touchdown drive. Sam Ehlinger completed a 90-yard pass to John Burt on a 2nd and 16 and then Ehlinger took it in himself from two yards out on the next play to tie the game at 7-7.