CHICAGO — The NCAA’s announcement on Monday of unprecedented sanctions leveled against Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal opened up a similarly unprecedented period of what Nittany Lions head coach Bill O’Brien called “NFL free agency without the rules.”
In the wake of vacated wins, a $60 million fine, a four-year bowl ban and scholarship reductions, the NCAA also ruled that any current Penn State player would be allowed to transfer with no penalty, and the Big Ten said it would allow restriction-free intra-conference transfers as well.
At Big Ten Media Days on Thursday, conference coaches varied on how they said they would approach this unique situation — a league foe whose roster was suddenly ripe for the picking.
Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema emphatically stated that he would not be pursuing any current Nittany Lions. Ohio State’s Urban Meyer expressed similar sentiments, but Minnesota coach Jerry Kill and Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said that while they wouldn’t actively recruit, they would be open to taking players if they expressed interest first.
On the other side of the spectrum, Purdue coach Danny Hope said he would “exercise every opportunity we can to enhance our own football team,” and Illinois coach Tim Beckman confirmed that staff members had been in State College on Wednesday to receive any Penn State players that expressed intent to transfer to his school.
For his part, Michigan coach Brady Hoke declared that he would neither pursue any Nittany Lions nor look at accepting transfers even if they reached out to his program first. In fact, the family of one player had already done so, but Hoke said he determined it wasn’t worth the changes that would result.
“It’s really a personal philosophy,” Hoke said. “You look at team chemistry. We had one young man’s father call us, but to me, it really is a situation that we’d rather stay out of.
“I think your emotions are always for those kids and Bill and that great staff, and obviously those emotions you have for those victims. But again, we can only control what we do at Michigan.”
Though pegged as a strong contender in the Big Ten’s Legends Division for the upcoming season, Michigan’s roster isn’t without holes, especially when it comes to depth, and there certainly are current Nittany Lions that could help in that regard were they to join the Wolverines.
But Hoke, asked about the topic on several occasions in the multiple stops along the media tour on Thursday, shot down the idea on each occasion. More often than not, the team’s chemistry was pointed to as the main reason for his policy.
He said the Wolverines had built a bond that wasn’t worth messing with, or at least that their chemistry was strong enough to not warrant any potential disruptions.
“To be honest with you, we kind of made a decision — I’d be lying if I didn’t say we didn’t look at the roster to some degree — but we’ve kind of made a decision that we’re going to stay and (not) recruit the guys and keep our business our business,” Hoke said.
Meanwhile, a tense O’Brien — undoubtedly stressed by the idea that at least several of his players might leave his team, perhaps to land with a conference foe that he will play this season — did not seem to enjoy the questions that came his way about the issue.
When asked if he could update the status of star running back Silas Redd, the biggest name involved in transfer rumors, O’Brien simply said “no.” He was similarly terse when asked if he had talked directly to Beckman about the latter’s intentions.
And when asked if he was surprised by the conference’s policy of unrestricted transfers for Penn State players, O’Brien responded thusly, also in curt fashion:
“Nothing surprises me, no, so the answer to the first question is no and I have no thought on that.”