CHICAGO -- A week ago, Illinois coach Tim Beckman probably didn't expect to get swarmed at Big Ten media day. After all, the Illini are coming off a second consecutive 7-6 season, which is the very reason Beckman was here instead of Ron Zook.
Yet Thursday, Beckman received just as much attention as Ohio State's Urban Meyer or Michigan's Brady Hoke as he defended his recruiting tactics in a scenario that has neither a written nor an unwritten rulebook. On Monday, the NCAA sanctions against Penn State made every Nittany Lions player a free agent. Big Ten presidents also voted to lift intra-conference transfer rules, meaning that every school in America had a shot to land Penn State players.
By Wednesday, Illinois coaches were reportedly on Penn State's campus. That wouldn't have been against the rules, but Beckman claimed it wasn't true.
"Our guys were not on their campus," Beckman said. "They were on the outskirts."
Beckman said Illinois sent eight assistants to State College. He said they set up shop at a restaurant and met with any Penn State player interested in transferring. According to Beckman, before he sent the coaches, several Penn State players contacted Illinois. The NCAA only allows nine assistant coaches at each FBS school, so Beckman threw almost his entire staff into the pursuit of Penn State players. "It wasn't a sneak attack," he said. "It was all out front."
For a league long known for its gentleman's agreements in recruiting and the hissy fits that have accompanied the breaking of those unwritten rules, the Penn State situation is an even thornier quandary. In the SEC or the Big 12, the prevailing attitude would be "Go get 'em." But recruiting hasn't historically been as cutthroat in the Big Ten. However, since the NCAA has decided its normal rules don't apply, every coach in the Big Ten seems to have a different opinion on how to handle the situation.
Beckman: "We're just following the rules of the NCAA. We provided Penn State with the names of the people prior to us even going there. Our compliance coordinator, Ryan Squire, and Mike Thomas, our athletic director, gave them a list of people that so that they were aware before we got there of who those individuals might be."
Meyer: "As a player, a young man has a right to play wherever he wants to play. We have to keep that in mind. However, when he's part of a team, you're getting into a situation that I'm not quite very familiar with, and we're not going to get very familiar with it."
Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald: "We had a very short and brief discussion as a coaching staff that, No. 1, we're excited about our team, we're focused on our team, and in no way, shape, or form are we going to pursue, contact, or reach out to Penn State University. And that's our situation, and that's how we've moved forward with it."
Nebraska's Bo Pelini: "We're not actively pursuing any Penn State players. We're concentrating on our football team, the guys on our program. Now, that isn't to say that if there is a young man from Penn State who definitely wanted to transfer and was for sure going to leave and Nebraska was someplace that he was considering, that we wouldn't take a look at him to see if it made sense for our program."
Michigan State's Mark Dantonio: "If there are people that are receptive to that and come back with us, I understand that. I'm here to create opportunities, but we're not going to invest in going beyond that. I would want to do this with respect to Penn State and in any way that I can with integrity. But at the same time, we have a job to do, and we do have relationships with some players that have gone there because we recruited them at an earlier time."
There is no consensus of which to speak, and the coaches have received little guidance. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said the conference added the stipulation that before a Big Ten school began recruiting Penn State players, that school's athletic director was asked to contact Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner. Schools from other conferences only have to contact Penn State's compliance department.
"I don't want the communications from compliance director to compliance director," Delany said. "I want them from athletic director to athletic director. So I want it to happen at a higher level."
Other than that, Delany can do little outside of requesting coaches to handle the recruitment in a mature fashion. Considering Penn State cornerback
As of early Thursday afternoon, Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said no Penn State player has informed him that he is transferring. That could change soon. The
"It's like NFL free agency," O'Brien said, "without the rules."