CHICAGO — Mark me down as uncomfortable — somewhat uneasy — with Illini football coaches traveling to Penn State in quest of transfers.
We all know it's necessary. But rules allow it, and Tim Beckman has no other choice. With the holes on his roster — the Illini will be short of the maximum 85 next week — he can't sit idle while rivals beat him to the punch. He is doing what he has to do.
Jumping ahead of questions Thursday in the Big Ten meetings, Beckman clarified:
"I want everyone to understand about the PSU situation. As a staff, we talked about this situation, and it was brought to our attention that two individuals were interested even before sanctions were announced. We did not go after them. They came to us. We followed NCAA rules, and we provided names to Penn State's compliance office so they'd be aware before we got there.
"We were in State College but not on campus. We went to two establishments outside campus, where two individuals (athletes) were called to see if they wanted to come by."
Bret Bielema, coach of Wisconsin's defending champions, has accepted a standout quarterback transfer for the second straight year. Maryland graduate Danny O'Brien will replace North Carolina State transfer Russell Wilson as Badger field general.
But Bielema said Thursday: "This is an unprecedented situation, and I made a decision as head coach we would not reach out to any Penn State players. I'm not casting doubt on anybody or questioning anything, but we made that decision. To bring someone in at this point so close to the season, I just wasn't comfortable with it."
Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald spoke along similar lines: "We are focused about our team and in no way will we reach out or pursue players at Penn State."
Purdue's Danny Hope and Minnesota's Jerry Kill seemed to keep the door open, and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio acknowledged "we do have relationships with players we recruited previously, and we followed through."
Said Hope: "The NCAA has established the rules and, as long as we are compliant, we're going to exercise every opportunity to enhance our football program."
Said Kill: "We have other concerns, but if a young man from Penn State called us, we'd go through the proper procedures."
Commissioner Jim Delany chipped in: "This is not a healthy place for us to be. I argued against it, but our presidents were clear in wanting a full spectrum of options for the student-athletes who wanted to move. This is where the rules are."
For Nittany Lions coach Bill O'Brien, it is an impossible situation.
"It's like NFL free agency without rules, and as long as they contact our compliance office, they can do that," he said. "I have not talked to Coach Beckman about it."
Punishment too severe
What a mess. What an eerie feeling for all of us when the Nittany Lions show up for the UI's Big Ten opener Sept. 29.
How will we feel then about sanctions imposed by Mark Emmert and the NCAA? At this point, from my minority standpoint, those penalties seem devilishly overdone in the long term.
Here's my view of it.
Jerry Sandusky is in jail and will remain there until he dies. That is appropriate.
The late Joe Paterno's legacy has been ruined. Graham Spanier, Tim Curley and David Schultz have lost their jobs and their reputations, and Curley and Schultz have been indicted for perjury. These are appropriate.
Youths who were wronged by Sandusky and administrative oversight have an opportunity to seek financial redress through legal means. The cost to Penn State will be in the hundreds of millions. This is certainly appropriate.
The Nittany Lion brand has been ruined, and sponsors are falling away.
Running parallel, there was a clear absence of institutional control at the athletic and university leadership levels. So, even though some "experts" said earlier that the NCAA had no business in this, some sanctions were called for because Penn State leaders kept the football brand alive by avoiding their civic duties.
But it is hard to process the enormity of penalties imposed by Emmert and the NCAA hierarchy. Allowing rival coaches to pick over their talent and extending penalties to 2020 border on the excessive.
This is a minority opinion expressed by Brent Musburger and only a few others, that NCAA penalties crossed the line into vindictiveness.
All the individuals involved in the case are already being dealt with. What is the point in invoking generational levels of punishment? BTN's Gerry DiNardo said it will take 10 to 12 years just to start regaining competitive balance.
The feeling here is that too many innocents are being punished for too long.
How long will tough act last?
Emmert's grand plan is to attack the culture of drastically overblown college football and create a better balance between athletics and academics.
This balance was lost prior to 1900 when it became popular, if unwise, to couple this vicious sport with higher education ... and a model was established that can't be changed. The Football Bowl Subdivision is growing at a steady pace, moving from 111 schools in 1995 to 124 (four transitional), and drawing attendance from 25 million in 1995 to a projected 38 million this season.
Emmert is certainly successful in dimming the lights at Penn State. But nobody is turning off the brights anywhere else. This NCAA action won't draw more than a blink in Texas. Oh, sure, athletic leaders will try to be careful for a while ... until the first kickoff.
Nebraska still is adding seats to a monster stadium. USC is back stronger than ever after two-year sanctions. Missouri and Texas A&M have taken a huge step into the SEC, where the jesting credo is: "If you're not cheating, you're not trying." Coaches are increasingly overpaid and increasingly fired when they don't produce.
Emmert responded to the outcry, but if he thinks hammering Penn State will change the culture in Alabama, he is hallucinating.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at email@example.com.