Penn State football program will face many challenges
The complete answers won't be known for years to come.
But on the day the NCAA sledgehammered Penn State with arguably the toughest football sanctions ever, it is difficult to see how the traditional powerhouse will not be severely handicapped for possibly the next decade.
Monday's heavy scholarship reduction and four-year postseason ban -- as well as vacating all victories going back to 1998 -- are the ones that hit hottest with fans, former players and even some national experts.
The university also was fined $60 million by the NCAA and must give up all shared bowl revenue from the Big Ten.
Moving forward on the field, however, will be dictated mostly by how new head coach Bill O'Brien and his staff handle the heavy scholarship cuts (40 overall, 10 per year starting in 2014) and the multiyear bowl ban.
Recruiting is the lifeblood of every program, and it figures that Penn State will be hit worst in terms of trying to convince enough talent to join under such dire circumstances.
The Nittany Lions will be forced to carry no more than 65 scholarship players on their roster when the full brunt of the sanctions take hold -- 20 fewer than every other Football Bowl Subdivision team.
Plus, their roster already is thin because of subpar recruiting in certain areas in the last years of Joe Paterno's regime and because of the expected collateral damage when changing coaching staffs.
Even if the Lions continue to boast Big Ten talent among many of its starters in the ensuing years, it's almost certain that quality depth will be nearly nonexistent.
"Penn State will be a middling BCS program for seven to eight years, that's the best-case scenario," said Mike Farrell, a national recruiting expert with Rivals.com. "The worst-case is this is SMU.
"This could be a 10- to 20-year recovery."
The scenario also is compounded by the NCAA's announced leniency with transferring in regard to current Penn State players. All are available to leave the Lions for any other program immediately and will not be penalized by sitting out a year, as usual.
So not only will Penn State's 2013 recruiting class probably be blown apart, the program also could lose several members of its current roster.
And how do you convince others to replace them? Even if Penn State did not regularly qualify for the most prestigious bowl games, at least there always was a chance it could.
"I can't imagine many kids wanting to play major Division I football and not play in a bowl game," said Greg Pickel, a recruiting analyst with Scout.com. "At the end of the day, how many kids are going to be scared away? A four-year bowl ban, that's brutal in terms of ... recruiting."
Some are saying the sanctions will wound Penn State's program so much that it will resemble a Football Championship Series team, formerly known as Division I-AA, such as Bucknell University. FCS teams are allowed 63 scholarship players.
The positives for Penn State might start with O'Brien, the successful former offensive coordinator with the New England Patriots.
Despite being blessed with future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady, "He did do a lot with a little with the Patriots," Farrell said. "That was not an overly talented football team offensively. He helped make them good players. He's going to have to do a whole lot of that now -- take two-star talent and make it four-stars."
Temple, under former coach Al Golden, accomplished that last part, Farrell noted. The Owls used smart but underwhelming recruiting and impressive player development to build a winner in the Mid-American Conference that almost knocked off Penn State twice.
"The problem is the Big Ten is stronger than it's ever been," Farrell said. "Penn State has to deal with that, too.
"I think it would be a miracle in three years for them to post a winning record."
It's also difficult to compare Penn State's situation to any other, in terms of persevering through similar sanctions. Southern California is enduring a three-year scholarship reduction and a one-year bowl ban.
But that involved illegal-benefits improprieties -- not a child-sex abuse scandal. Just the nature of the Jerry Sandusky scandal creates another level of negativity to conquer when trying to convince high school stars, with their family's approval, to be the next program builders.
"We are fortunate to have an outstanding group of coaches and a plan in place to deal with our sanctions," USC athletic director Pat Haden said in a statement released on the school's website. "You have to be very judicious in recruiting, you have to be lucky with injuries, and you have to guard your roster from players being recruited by other schools.
"It is an inexact science, and you have to do the best you can. Our coaches have handled these challenges extremely well."
Even the SMU "death penalty" situation is markedly different. That punishment shut down the program completely for a year in the mid-1980s. The school added another year, then de-emphasized football to an extent and never truly pursued elite program status again.
With Penn State, NCAA president Mark Emmert said the penalties "reflect the magnitude of these terrible acts but also assures Penn State will rebuild an athletic culture that went horribly awry."
Media pressure built during the past months. And, finally, an NCAA which was perceived, by many, as neutered in recent years, seemed to strike with never-before-seen power to regain control.
"Money wasn't going to satisfy people who wanted blood," Farrell said of the sanctions. "It had to be unprecedented. It had to be big.
"The death penalty is a quick death. This is a very slow, drawn-out, severe injury. This is going to be years and years."
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