The Nittany Lions, severely wounded by the NCAA's blast, are down. Naturally, buzzards are in the midst of circling overhead. It won't be long before the pecking begins, and Penn State's recruiting efforts are ripped to shreds.
It's the circle of life, and college football is no exception. The strong devour the weak, the fast prey on the slow and the big gobble the small.
There's no shame and less trepidation among the football coaches with Penn State in their crosshairs. They are attracted to that roster like sharks are drawn to chum, in this case players who became free agents Monday and can play elsewhere immediately without missing a year.
Part of the NCAA's penalty loosened transfer rules and created a rare dining opportunity for opposing schools, turning Penn State's recruits and returning players into an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Coaches accustomed to poaching might not know how to act with an actual license to hunt. Ohio State's Urban Meyer rankled Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema last winter by disregarding the Big Ten's longstanding "gentlemen's agreement," in which coaches don't recruit players who have publicly committed to other league schools.
But it's perfectly legal under NCAA rules to pursue players who made verbal commitments, and Meyer was continuing a time-honored tradition from his stint at Florida. "I can tell you this," Bielema told the Sporting News in February. "We at the Big Ten don't want to be like the SEC — in any way, shape or form."
Well, they better get with the program — and get in line — because Penn State's Class of 2013 is an entree on the menu.
Those players, who will be high school seniors next fall, are furthest away and most vulnerable to permanent separation from the pride. They've yet to play in front of 106,572 rabid fans at Beaver Stadium. They've yet to enjoy the world-class training facilities at the team's disposal. They've yet to relish campus life and the associated perks as a Nittany Lion football player.
They never will, either, if it's up to rival coaches in the Big Ten or other FBS conferences.
As for Penn State's incoming and returning players, they're also being discussed and dissected across the country. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Georgia coach Mark Richt, at a fan event Monday, said his staff began poring over the Nittany Lions' two-deep roster as soon as the sanctions were announced. ESPN reports that USC has notified Penn State of the Trojans' interest in junior halfback Silas Reed.
Only negligence will prevent opposing coaches from inquiring about Penn State players. They won't even count against their new school's scholarship limit! And it's not like coaches have to be sneaky and work through back channels. The rules require that everything be done in the open.
All a school has to do is call Penn State and say, "We're going to talk to your stud linebacker [or fill-in-the-blank]." A player simply has to inform school officials, "I'm going to talk to Michigan [or fill-in-the-blank]." Penn State is prohibited from restricting transfers or interfering with the schools trying to woo them.
Some players will choose to remain despite the four-year postseason ban and crippling reduction in scholarships. Evan Schwan, an incoming freshman from Harrisburg, Pa., indicated as much Sunday, before the penalties were announced: "No matter what happens tomorrow #PennState will remain my home for the next four years," he tweeted.
I doubt if that's the mindset for most of Penn State's top players, especially the ones with multiple options at fully-stocked schools that are eligible for bowls and national titles. For the players who stay at Happy Valley, great, but you can't blame those who conclude it's not what they signed up for.
Decisions don't have to be made immediately unless players want to play elsewhere this season, but the process offers a tremendous learning opportunity. The invaluable lessons for Penn State's players include sorting through sales pitches, determining what's important, handling disappointment, making the best of situations and weighing individual vs. collective goals.
They'll also be reminded that college football, like life, can resemble the wild kingdom. And they're about to be the focus of a feeding frenzy at Penn State.
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