Recruitment of Penn State players touches a nerve

B1G coaches bounce between aggressive recruitment and 'taking calls'

Published: July 26 2012 | 5:06 pm - Updated: 31 March 2014 | 10:15 pm in

CHICAGO -- Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti is the Linebacker U prototype.

Thick neck, shoulders as wide as an appliance and brusque in his nature, Mauti is the son of a former Penn State player. The Nittany burns deep in his soul. As you can imagine, he's not taking lightly the recruitment of players currently on Penn State's team.

When the NCAA handed down sanctions in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky molestation case and the subsequent Freeh Report, part of the deal was open transfer option for Penn State players on campus and incoming.

This created a bit of a stir at the Big Ten media days on Thursday.

In one spot of the media blitz, you had Mauti.

"For them [the NCAA] to say that it's helping us, for them to say that they're doing us a service by allowing us to transfer with no rules is . . . I'm going to choose my words carefully . . . it's a joke," Mauti said. "It's an absolute joke. There have been coaches hounding our players, like 10 to 12 calls a day. 'Come out and visit, come here.' [They're] on our campus, outside of our apartments and outside of our classrooms."

And in another corner, you had first-year Illinois coach Tim Beckman. Illinois had eight assistant coaches in State College, Pa., on Wednesday.

Yes, go ahead and say it. Awkward.

"I didn't want it to be a big scene," Beckman said. "It ended up being more of a scene than it was. Everything we've done has been NCAA compliant. Penn State knew."

Beckman said his assistants didn't step foot on the Penn State campus. He said Illinois was contacted by some Penn State players and that his coaches also talked to some players who hadn't contacted Illinois.

"We gave them an opportunity to come to us," Beckman said. "We did not go after them."

First-year Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said Beckman did not contact him before recruiting PSU players. Beckman said he contacted Penn State, which is what the NCAA requires. The two schools open the Big Ten schedule at Champaign on Sept. 29. Set your DVRs.

On multiple ESPN platforms Wednesday, O'Brien said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz called him and discussed transfer options with PSU players. At least one Penn State player has contacted Iowa about a transfer, Iowa athletics director Gary Barta said.

"Once [the NCAA] opened it up, our approach was whatever we do, let's do it the right way," Barta said. "We've been approached by one of the student-athletes. Kirk called Bill and said, hey, I just want you to be aware of this. We're not going to be aggressively recruiting, but we will take the calls and see where it goes."

Barta said players who had relationships with Iowa through recruiting and who have now reached out to Iowa would be pursued.

"We're getting ready for the season with the guys on our roster," Barta said. "We're days away from getting this started with the guys we have."

Ferentz called the situation "complex" and "confusing." The other c-word he used was "compliant." The rules have changed here and, basically, coaches have been given the greenlight to recruit players who are currently wearing a college uniform. PSU running back Silas Redd reportedly met with USC coach Lane Kiffin for three hours on Thursday.

There's no getting around awkward here.

"I think you handle it in any way you feel is appropriate," Ferentz said. "People are taking a lot of different approaches to it. I'm comfortable with the approach we're taking right now. We'll continue to do so.

". . . We live in the conference, we work in the conference. I have great respect for Bill O'Brien and his staff. That's important to us as well."

Aggressive recruitment and "taking calls" were the two approaches toward potential Penn State recruits discussed by league coaches.

Illinois and Purdue were open with the aggressive recruitment approach. Purdue coach Danny Hope said members of his staff have reached out to Penn State players.

"We're going to follow the rules and the rules allow you to go recruit [Penn State players]," Hope said. "To me, they're like any other recruit. If they're available and they can help us win, we're interested."

Several coaches said they met with their staffs after Monday's announcement of sanctions and made the decision not to pursue Penn State players. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said he told Big Ten coaches to operate within the rules and act as "adults and grownups."

Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said he would stand pat with his roster and wouldn't engage in the open "free agency" that's been cast upon Penn State.

No matter how tempting. And it is tempting, even for Michigan coach Brady Hoke.

"I'd be lying if I didn't say we didn't look at the [Penn State] roster to some degree," Hoke said. "But we've kind of made a decision that we're going to stay and recruit the guys and keep our business our business."

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