Illinois doesn't back off recruiting Penn State players
Aside from frowning upon the Illini bags and gear screaming they had arrived, the Illinois coach made no apologies Thursday for his staff's attempt to convince Penn State players to make a move to Champaign.
NCAA sanctions following the Penn State child sex-abuse scandal allow Nittany Lions players to transfer and maintain their immediate eligibility. Several coaches, standing at the microphone for Big Ten media day in Chicago, announced their decisions not to recruit Penn State players, some out of respect for the program. Ohio State's Urban Meyer went so far as to say, "I have a problem with that."
But Beckman stated his staff simply was working within NCAA rules when they met players at two restaurants off campus.
"I also feel there's respect for those individuals if they want to transfer," Beckman said. "We wanted to give the student-athletes, if they wanted to change and come to the University of Illinois, that's what they can do."
Beckman said players contacted Illinois about potential transfers, and staff members sent Penn State a list of those athletes. He would not say how many players they met or if any had decided to transfer but did say Illinois coaches previously had recruited them.
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany is among the opponents of the intra-conference recruiting. He said he told university presidents he thought it put the Big Ten in an unhealthy place, but he was overruled.
He said they responded, "This is not about competition between and among schools; it's about the student-athletes having a full spectrum of opportunities."
The situation has presented a challenge for Penn State coachBill O'Brien, who had a team meeting to lay out the reasons he thinks the players should stay in Happy Valley an hour after the NCAA announced the sanctions. He also has had contact with his players' families to talk about why they should stay despite the sanctions, which include a four-year bowl ban.
"To me there are so many more reasons to stay than to leave," O'Brien said.
No Penn State players have informed O'Brien yet that they are transferring, and he had no update on the status of running back Silas Redd, who reportedly met Thursday with USC. O'Brien was diplomatic when speaking of opposing coaches approaching his players.
"The rules are what they are," O'Brien said. "It's like NFL free agency without the rules. They can do what they want as long as they tell our compliance office that they are contacting these kids."
The scandal hasn't scared off potential players. O'Brien said hee recently received more than 150 emails from athletes who expressed interest in joining the team. The potential departure of players, coupled with the eventual reduction to 65 total scholarships, elevates the importance of Penn State's walk-on program.
"It shows the interest in Penn State," O'Brien said of the emails. "It shows that Penn State is not dead."