Scholarship penalties could crush PSU

INDIANAPOLIS -- Forget about the money. The revenue that Penn State must forfeit both now and in the future as a result of NCAA penalties handed down Monday won’t cripple the football program.

Scholarship reductions might. Especially scholarship reductions coupled with extremely liberal transfer rules for current players and incoming recruits.

Because there was a lot of confusion about the scholarship component earlier Monday, let’s review it again:

  • Penn State can offer only 15 scholarships per year, 10 fewer than the maximum allowed, beginning with the 2013 recruiting class and continuing through the 2014, 2015 and 2016 recruiting classes. The team can resume offering 25 scholarships per year with the 2017 class. The scholarship reductions don’t impact the 19-man recruiting class Penn State signed in February.

  • Penn State will have to play with just 65 scholarship players, 20 fewer than the maximum allowed for FBS programs, beginning with the 2014 season and also in the 2015, 2016, and 2017 seasons.

  • The 2018 calendar year will be the first time Penn State can both offer 25 scholarships and play with 85 scholarship players.

A reasonable conclusion: Penn State football might not be back to normal in terms of its roster until the 2020 season or so.

The NCAA and Big Ten also are making it very easy for current Penn State players to transfer. Players who signed national letters of intent with Penn State in February may be released from those letters and allowed to go elsewhere without penalty. If players pledged to Penn State decide in the next year that they want to compete elsewhere, they shouldn’t face much, if any, resistance.

And if Penn State players decide they don’t want to play football but remain in school, their scholarships will be honored until they complete their degrees.

“We recognize the immediate consequences here have an impact on these students, who didn’t have anything directly to do with the transgressions at Penn State,” said Kevin Lennon, the NCAA’s vice president of academic and membership affairs. “So we’re trying to provide the best relief possible.”

Here are some of the specifics:

  • Penn State can’t place any restrictions on where a player can go. “We would simply ask that the student approach the institution and say, ‘I am interested in transferring,’ ” Lennon said. “And then the school that wants to recruit that student would notify Penn State that they have interest in recruiting that student. So there’s some relief there.”

  • Both current Penn State players and incoming recruits will be able to transfer and be eligible immediately. Although a transfer within the Big Ten could result in some penalties, league commissioner Jim Delany said Monday that the Big Ten’s presidents and chancellors are leaning toward allowing such transfers with no penalties.

  • The NCAA will re-examine its rules about official and unofficial visits for Penn State recruits. “Should a student want to go back to a campus they had considered during the recruiting process,” Lennon said, “we’ll set aside those limitations for that particular group to make sure they have the most informed and best choice to help them academically and athletically.”

  • If a Penn State player wishes to transfer to a team that already is at its 85-man scholarship limit, the NCAA will engage the school about ways to possibly make things work. “It’s hard to say we’re going to have a blanket policy to say one school can go over [the limit],” Lennon said. “Perhaps there’s opportunities to look at, if you had more this year, if you went above 25, perhaps you could reduce it the following year. Those would be choices the school would make to balance the competitive issue.”

  • It’s unknown whether Penn State players could transfer to schools such as Ohio State and USC that are already operating at a reduced scholarship cap because of their own NCAA violations. “We’ve not addressed that issue at all at this point,” Lennon said.

Will the NCAA’s scholarship sanctions prevent Penn State’s ability to compete in the coming years?

“We think you can certainly field a team with these numbers,” Lennon said. “And part of this is a penalty. The institution needs to do the best they can within that construct to field the best team they can.”

That’s the daunting task now facing new Penn State coach Bill O’Brien and his staff.