Not surprisingly, much of the discussion that took place Thursday at the 41st annual Big Ten Media Day centered around the Penn State scandal and the sanctions that were handed down on Monday. A good number of the questions directed at each coach revolved around the issue, as there has been controversy surrounding the recruiting of Nittany Lions players.
Of course, the NCAA has rules in place regarding player recruiting, but there have been rumors of coaching staffs physically going to State College and actively coercing players. The Fighting Illini were one of the teams named and head coach Tim Beckman felt the need to clear things up before opening the floor to questions.
“We were in State College, but we did not go on campus,” Beckman said. “We went to two establishments and called some individuals and if they wanted to come by, it was their opportunity to come by.”
He made it clear that Illinois followed NCAA guidelines and said that they provided Penn State with a list of the players they were looking at. Obviously, Beckman doesn’t see an issue with recruiting within the rules and neither does Purdue head coach Danny Hope. He said that the NCAA rules are ethically strong and there’s no issue as long as they follow those rules.
“We’re going to exercise every opportunity we can to enhance our own football team,” Hope said.
However, some coaches expressed a different sentiment and Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema, the first to field questions on the Penn State issue, set the tone at the start of the day. While most coaches skirted around the issue as best they could, Bielema produced a poignant and meaningful response, demonstrating the depth to which this situation has rooted itself in the minds of coaches and players around the country.
Bielema first made it clear that he made the decision as head coach to not recruit Penn State’s players. He spoke about the respect he has for not only everyone in the league, but for Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien. The way that O’Brien is leading his team through the struggle in solidarity demonstrates a strength that Bielema doesn’t want to break. Bielema also made the decision out of respect of his own players in that he wanted to convey his confidence in the squad that he has.
And while Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer admitted he didn’t know enough about the Big Ten rules regarding player recruiting in this situation, he did make it clear that it wouldn’t be happening at Ohio State.
When asked if he had a problem with coaches being able to recruit Penn State players, Meyer answered simply: “I have a problem with that. I have a problem with that.”
When O’Brien took the podium, he spoke first about encouraging solidarity with the team and that they are ready to move forward. He said that none of his players have informed him that they intend to transfer, and there’s only so much he can do to keep his team together. While he can’t control what other schools do within NCAA rules, he said he has a lot of respect for Bielema and the kind of football coach he is. Bielema definitely returned O’Brien’s praise.
“I’m going to be their biggest fan for every week of the year for the guys that stay there and stick it through,” Bielema said. “My hat’s off to the coach and all the players staying strong.”
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