CHICAGO – Man, talk about awkward with a capital AWK.
As Penn State head football coach Bill O’Brien and his traveling party were preparing to board a plane to fly to ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn., Wednesday morning, they passed a group of about six coaches carrying luggage and bags with University of Illinois logos. No words were exchanged and the Illini contingent marched on to conduct its business: That business was taking them to the Penn State campus to recruit O’Brien’s football players.
It’s open season now on Penn State players, who have been given license to transfer with immediate eligibility in the wake of the harsh sanctions that came down from the NCAA on Monday.
O’Brien confirmed the story about the Illini coaches and Illinois has confirmed that they’re there, “recruiting a player or two, maybe more.” In accordance with the rules, Illini AD Mike Thomas contacted Penn State’s acting AD, Dave Joyner, and told him of Illinois’ intentions.
But if what O’Brien says is right, Illinois is just one of many schools lined up for a chance to cherry pick players who might be looking for a new home.
O’Brien said all of his players have been contacted and said some have as many as 50 scholarship offers.
Everyone knows about running back Silas Redd, who I view as Penn State’s best player. USC is one of the many schools that is making a pitch.
Beckman isn’t saying who they are targeting, but it makes sense that there are likely to be a few players on that roster with whom some of the Illini coaches had relationships with during their high school recruiting. So if this is how it’s going to work, why let Southern Cal or Florida or Oklahoma lead the way?
That said, it figures to be a hot topic today in Chicago, where I and many others have gathered for the Big Ten’s annual football media day event.
All of the head coaches and more than 30 players will be here. I’d love to know what O’Brien is really thinking when he shakes hands with Tim Beckman. And whichever other Big Ten coaches have offered uniforms and scholarships to his players.
Like I said, there’s nothing illegal going on. But we’d be silly not to point out how awkward it all feels.
It feels a little like reaching into the casket to steal the watch off a dead cousin.
Wow, it’s tough to be Penn State right now.