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Penn State set back a decade

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Updated: August 30, 2012 6:32AM



CHICAGO — Does Penn State’s penalty fit the crime?

A four-year postseason ban and a loss of scholarships seems harder to swallow than a one-year death penalty.

In coming down so hard on the Nittany Lions, the NCAA has sentenced them to mediocrity for what could be a decade.

I have no sympathy for the lack of institutional control during Joe Paterno’s latter years, but new coach Bill O’Brien must pick up the pieces with players who are innocent victims of this perverse morality play started by Jerry Sandusky and seemingly tolerated by the administration.

How many will the new coach keep from defecting? Tackle Jordan Hill is among those who admits to being contacted by several programs. And running back Silas Redd has huddled with USC.

During a Monday meeting with his players, O’Brien described playing before 108,000 fans at Beaver Stadium as six or seven bowl experiences. No TV blackouts are planned by the Big Ten Network so they won’t vanish from the face of the earth.

Still, O’Brien may not have enough fingers to plug holes in the dike since the NCAA has all but invited coaches to poach Penn State’s program just two weeks before practice begins.

If you’re looking for solidarity, the Big Ten is not exactly being sympathetic. The conference deserted its fraternity brother by allowing 11 other members to join the vultures circling the carcass. Pressured Penn State players could make an immediate transition without losing their scholarships or sitting out a year.

Big Ten analyst Gerry DiNardo understands my contempt for the Big Ten’s willingness to take advantage of the situation. I consider it hitting below the belt, even though rival coaches are obligated to inform the tarnished institution of its intentions.

“Recruiting and fair are not usually used in the same sentence,” said the former Indiana football coach during a one-on-one interview at the Big Ten kickoff.

He offered his perspective on Penn State spending four years in football limbo.

“If you’re strictly defining penalty inside the white lines, this is worse than a death penalty,” he said.

One year and done and back to work with a full roster in 2013 would make it far easier for Penn State to regroup, then stage a renaissance.

DiNardo punched holes in that argument in one sentence. It’s the economy, stupid.

“Think of the impact it would have on the Big Ten, the Penn State community,” he said.

Not to mention 12 opponents depending on the Nittany Lions for a huge payday, starting with Ohio University on Sept. 1.

All because of the perverse nature of Sandusky, who was once considered Paterno’s heir apparent.

Looking at it from that angle, shouldn’t this have strictly been decided in the courtroom? Unfortunately, it’s a far more tangled web.

Originally, DiNardo wondered why the NCAA should be involved in a legal issue. As the sordid facts unfolded, he understood.

“I was convinced that these were unusual circumstances and had to be dealt with that in mind,” he said. “The NCAA isn’t punishing Penn State because of Sandusky.”

Because of its lack of institutional control, Penn State will be living in Unhappy Valley for years to come.

Leading the Leaders: Since Ohio State also won’t be eligible, the Leaders Division representative in the Dec. 1 playoff for the Big Ten championship will be either Purdue, Wisconsin, Illinois or Indiana. Purdue, with 19 returning starters, seems most likely to challenge Wisconsin, which beat Michigan State in last year’s inaugural title match, 42-39.

“Purdue was a darkhorse before this happened to Penn State,” DiNardo said. “Danny’s (Hope) done a good job of developing his roster.

“This will be his best team if they stay healthy.”

Hoosier progress: Under energetic athletic director Bill Glass, the Hoosiers have made strides. Their first-class facility ranks among the top programs in the Midwest, but much of their momentum vanished when coach Terry Hoeppner died after a lengthy battle with brain cancer, and Bill Lynch was unable to sustain success.

“They’ve made a lot of improvements,” said DiNardo, who was fired from IU after the 2004 season, “but their (nonconference) schedule is bad. Playing Navy in Game 7 is absurd.”

Having to prepare for a rare triple-option team between Big Ten contests with Ohio State and Illinois isn’t doing IU any favors.

The Hoosiers have struggled ever since Bill Mallory was dismissed in 1996 after guiding them to six bowls from 1986-93. Big mistake.

“Bill Mallory taught us all how to do it,” DiNardo said. “You schedule four nonconference games you can win and win two or three Big Ten games and go to a bowl.”

That wasn’t good enough for IU’s fan base.

“They wanted to go to bigger bowls and haven’t recovered since,” DiNardo said.

DiNardo misses coaching despite his unhappy experience at IU, but has been a rousing success on the Big Ten Network with his humorous and insightful analysis. Never say never, but he doesn’t expect to coach again.

“That ship has sailed,” he said.



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