Senior College Football Columnist

In wake of NCAA penalties, it's open season to pluck Penn State players


The feeding frenzy has begun. Staffers from college football programs from all over the country, who already had sized up the Penn State roster for possible transfers they could grab in the wake of potential hefty NCAA sanctions, have now sprung into action.

When NCAA president Mark Emmert detailed the punishments he imposed on Penn State -- a four-year postseason bowl ban and scholarship reductions of 10 per year over the next four years, among other things -- it also opened up the program to getting picked apart by other FBS schools. Every player in the Nittany Lions football program is now eligible to transfer without having to sit out a season.

Compliance staffers promptly forwarded an email, that CBS has obtained, to the Penn State coaches explaining the ground rules: "... Permission-to-contact rules will be suspended. Penn State cannot restrict in any way a student-athlete from pursuing a possible transfer. Student-athletes must simply inform Penn State of their interest in discussing transfer options with other schools. Interested schools also must inform Penn State of their intention to open discussions with the student-athlete."

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Coaches at two programs that I spoke with Monday morning said they had been contacted by Penn State players or people on their behalf previously about possibly transferring before the sanctions were announced.

Several programs contacted Monday said they will be faxing over lists of names of Nittany Lions they are interested in recruiting. After that, they will try and connect with the player, either directly if they had a previous relationship via the recruiting process, or through the player's high school coach. Incoming freshmen will be released from their letters of intent, so even if they used up all five of their official visits, they will be able to take five more official visits, according to the email.

"We looked at this [Penn State situation] from the macro level first, by saying, 'Do we have any relationships here with any of these kids?'" said one staffer at a major FBS program. "We discussed faxing over a list with the names of their entire roster, but we ended up faxing over a list of over 30 names.

"We know we have to move quickly. You want things in motion by tomorrow. Camp starts [in about 10 days]. They're gonna have to take visits. You have to get them admitted. There's a lot that is going to have to happen in a hurry."

Another coach from a different FBS program said his school isn't going to be quite as aggressive.

"We're not going do it like some people," he said. "We'll just keep monitoring the internet, seeing kids who say they want leave and then we'll reach out to their high school coaches to see if they'd be interested in us. We have some room [under the 85-man scholarship limit], but we think there can't be that many schools that have more than one or two spots open right now."

The NCAA, though, has afforded schools some flexibility, in going beyond its 85-scholarship limit this season, but those schools would need to reduce its numbers for the 2013 season.

Penn State, no doubt, is going to have to do its own recruiting process through this devastating news, and not just with its own commits. (One Nittany Lions recruit, four-star cornerback Ross Douglas, decommitted right after the news broke Monday morning.)

"I'm sure the staff met with their players this morning, tried to be as positive as they could be and played the loyalty card with them," one coach said. "They know if those kids leave the program now, they can never replace them on scholarship."

In 2010, when the NCAA hammered USC with a two-year postseason bowl ban and sizable scholarship reductions, somewhat lost in the sting was the fact that Trojans with one or two years of eligibility remaining could transfer without sitting out. About a half-dozen players ended up leaving, although none were starters. "That actually hurt us a lot more than people realized," USC coach Lane Kiffin told me a few weeks ago. "That impacted our depth and on special teams. You saw it affect the team in the fourth quarter and late in games."

The feeling of not knowing who is talking to other coaches from around the country also is unsettling for a staff, already tasked with doing damage control and spin.

There are several key distinctions surrounding the circumstances between this as it relates to USC and Penn State. First, many of the Trojans' most talented players in the program were freshmen and sophomores, and not eligible to transfer. Many of those kids, such as QB Matt Barkley, are the nucleus of a Trojans team that likely will begin the 2012 as pre-season No. 1. Every Penn State player is free to go now, and according to the coaches I spoke with Monday, the Nittany Lions most sought-after will be the underclassmen because those guys would have more time to fit into a new system and because they have less attachment to life at Penn State.

Second, in the cases of both USC and SMU (when the Mustangs were leveled by the NCAA's death penalty), the sanctions were announced with more time for schools to manage their rosters. No doubt, there will be a flurry of action around Penn State players, but they also can transfer without restriction at any point in their college careers. There is no hope for any of these Nittany Lions of ever getting the chance to compete for the Big Ten championship or any bowl game. That will suck the life out of a program, and even after the shock of Monday's news wears off, the reality is going to settle in, predicted an FBS head coach.

Also, the Big Ten has stated that Penn State players will be able to transfer within conference without penalty.

"For a lot of schools around the country, especially those of us on the East Coast, we're in on Level 5," said one FBS defensive coordinator. "They have some really good players on defense and a bunch of decent players, and guys we would've loved to have gotten in recruiting. Can we get 'em now? We'll see. Their third-team guys are probably better than our second-teamers and probably a few of our starters too."

Bruce Feldman is a senior writer for and college football commentator for CBS Sports Network. He is a New York Times Bestselling author, who has written books including Swing Your Sword, Meat Market and Cane Mutiny. Prior to joining CBS, Feldman spent 17 years at ESPN.

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