U's big benefit from Penn State: lesson learned

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER
  • Star Tribune
  • July 24, 2012 - 6:40 AM

When the Penn State football team visits TCF Bank Stadium a little more than 15 months from now in its next game against Minnesota, the Gophers still will own a four-game losing streak against the Nittany Lions -- even if Penn State no longer can claim the victories.

But Minnesota's chances of ending that skid with a victory will be greatly improved.

"Penn State is not an elite program anymore," said Glen Mason, Big Ten Network football analyst and former Gophers coach, shortly after the NCAA hammered the school with sanctions of unprecedented harshness in the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal. "I don't think anyone can tell you if they ever will be again."

That's because the penalty that figures to cripple the Nittany Lions for years -- "decades, probably, to be frank," Mason said -- is the limit of 15 new scholarship players each season, 10 fewer than the NCAA maximum. Along with a newly imposed overall roster limit of 65 scholarships players, instead of the 85 that teams such as the Gophers operate with, Penn State "won't be able to recruit to its usual standards, and the roster will get thinner every year," Mason predicted. "Typically, Penn State [engages] in recruiting battles for the cream of the crop nationally, but they won't be able to anymore. They'll be like a lot of other schools -- taking second-line players, coaching them, teaching them, and hoping they develop into impact players."

That's assuming current players and recruits remain, too, which is far from certain. The NCAA allows players at schools facing postseason bans to transfer without penalty, and Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said the conference is inclined to "allow those students to have the most freedom and flexibility" if they want to remain in the league. Though tampering rules prevent teams from contacting another school's players directly, Mason said he expects "coaches who maybe were runner-up with a player to call his parents and say, 'Hey, how's Johnny handling all this? Is he OK?' and then hope the kid calls if he decides to transfer."

How many players can Penn State expect to lose? "Nobody can predict the attrition right now," Mason said. "But football is a game of numbers, and any losses will hurt."

Any such weakening of a school that, until Monday, owned three shared or outright Big Ten championships figures to help the Gophers compete; Minnesota is 4-8 all-time against the Nittany Lions. But there figure to be few other tangible impacts on the Gophers and their Big Ten brethren.

Bowl revenue, records lost

The Nittany Lions' absence from the next four postseasons, for instance, will cost them their one-12th share of league bowl revenues, or roughly $13 million, the league figures. But that money will be distributed to charity and not divvied up among the other 11 members. And any bowl that would have taken Penn State, should it win enough to be eligible for an extra game, probably will simply invite the next highest-finishing Big Ten team; after all, every team except Indiana and Minnesota played in a bowl last season, so any lost berths likely would be from a game that pays less than $1 million.

The record books will be rewritten in State College, with the 2005 and 2008 league co-championships wiped out, Joe Paterno's status as Division I's career coaching victory leader voided, and the Nittany Lions simply 0-0, as if their games were never played, from 1998 through 2011. Their opponents' results, however, will not change, according to Gophers spokesman Garry Bowman. Minnesota's four losses since 2005, as well as Mason's four-game winning streak against Paterno and Penn State from 1999 to '2004, still stand.

Safety, accountability first

Realignment of the conference is unlikely, Delany said, even though only four Leaders Division teams are eligible for the championship game this season because of Ohio State's own probation and bowl ban. That figures to benefit Wisconsin, given that the Badgers are 18-1 since 2004 against the remaining three Leaders teams: Illinois, Indiana and Purdue. And Penn State will not be banned from TV appearances.

So the most significant impact on the Gophers from the Jerry Sandusky scandal, according to university President Eric Kaler, is the opportunity to absorb an important lesson.

"Penn State's situation is a cautionary tale for all of us," Kaler said in a statement expressing his support for the NCAA and Big Ten sanctions. In noting that Minnesota has reorganized its athletic compliance department in the past decade in order to strengthen oversight, Kaler added, "The culture of big-time college sports must never supersede a culture of safety, compliance, transparency and accountability on our campuses."

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