Philadelphia, PA – With the carcass of a once-proud college football program rotting in the summer sun, it was only a matter of time before the vultures began to circle.
The NCAA lowered the boom on the beleaguered Penn State football program on Monday, levying sanctions that include a $60 million fine, 4-year bowl ban and a significant loss of scholarships, thus hampering the Nittany Lions' ability to remain competitive on the gridiron for what could be the next decade or so.
The Big Ten Conference piled on as well, making PSU ineligible to play for the league title or even share in any bowl revenue for a period of four years.
In the hopes of minimizing collateral damage, the NCAA is allowing current members of the Penn State football team to shop their wares to any school in the country, should they have the desire to continue their playing days elsewhere. They will not have to adhere to typical transfer rules, i.e. sitting out a season, thus allowing them to suit up this fall.
Basically they are all free agents and knowing that, teams from across the country have been working on their sales pitch as they attempt to lure the Nittany Lions' best players away from what was once one of the most revered college football havens in the country.
It would have been nice if a period of mourning were established, but things move pretty quickly in the world of big-time college athletics and it was only a matter of hours before word came that the Nittany Lions' most dangerous offensive weapon, junior running back Silas Redd, was being courted by USC.
The Trojans recently came out from the shadows of NCAA sanctions themselves, but you can hardly blame Redd, or anyone for that matter, for considering a USC team that is poised to make a serious run at the BCS National Championship this year. Redd, who ran for 1,241 yards and 7 TDs last season, would only help the Trojans' chances, but he isn't the only Penn State player who could be on the move.
Bill O'Brien was already in the unenviable position of taking over for former FBS career wins leader Joe Paterno, but his job got significantly harder with the recent punishment doled out by the NCAA as now, not only does he have to evaluate talent and help formulate a game plan from week to week, but he must now also convince both his current players and future recruits that while face down on the canvas today, Penn State football will rise again.
Following Monday's announcement, O'Brien reaffirmed his commitment to the school that gave him his first head coaching job, "I knew when I accepted the position that there would be tough times ahead. But I am committed for the long term to Penn State and our student athletes."
He went on to praise his current crop of players, "I was then and I remain convinced that our student athletes are the best in the country. I could not be more proud to lead this team and these courageous and humble young men into the upcoming 2012 season. Together we are committed to building a better athletic program and university."
With the statue of the much-maligned Paterno taken down and moved to a secure location on Sunday morning, and knowing the NCAA's mandate was forthcoming, senior quarterback Matt McGloin declared via his Twitter account, "The hotter the fire, the stronger the steel."
Others using social media to convey their thoughts included Akeel Lynch, a running back recruit from New York who wrote, "I still bleed blue and white", and junior tight end Garry Gilliam who added, "No matter what happens, I'm staying at Penn State."
On the defensive side of the ball, senior linebackers Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti are two guys the Lions will need to stick around if they have any shot at making this a positive season, but both have NFL-caliber talent and they could be persuaded to play their final collegiate seasons elsewhere if they believe it will enhance their draft status.
Penn State did suffer at least one loss shortly after the sanctions were announced, as Ross Douglas, a defensive back recruit from Cleveland, Ohio, reneged on his commitment. There are likely to be more defectors, and securing top-flight talent in the immediate future will be nearly impossible, but if O'Brien can convince just one kid at a time that Penn State is the right place for them, the dark clouds that hover above today could begin to show breaks soon enough.
Senior corner back Stephon Morris tweeted on Monday, "I'm not going anywhere. We are Penn State forever. That's final!! Love this University, more important I bleed Blue & White!!"
It will be interesting to see just how many of his teammates feel the same way.