Several reports suggest that the Nittany Lions won’t become the second program to be given the “death penalty,” but many figure that sanctions including the loss of several scholarships and a postseason ban lasting a few seasons could serve the same purpose.
Which is where the future of Maryland football enters what is without question the ugliest scandal in the history of intercollegiate athletics.
Though the schools have not played a football game in nearly 20 years, the Terps and Nittany Lions have been at times sort of shadow rivals because of their proximity. Granted, even off the field, it was not much of a rivalry, with Penn State typically beating out Maryland (and other schools) for top recruits. There was a brief period, early in Ralph Friedgen’s 10-year tenure, when the Terps were at least on equal ground. There was also a short window around 2004 and 2005 when Joe Paterno seemed to be losing power in Happy Valley, but sadly that never happened.
It will be interesting to see what the immediate fallout might be when it comes to Maryland. If the current Penn State players and the incoming freshmen are allowed to transfer and become eligible immediately, which is typically allowed by the NCAA under these circumstances, a few could wind up in College Park this season. While a team coming off a 2-10 season is not exactly enticing to players hoping for bowl games and NFL careers, the strong recruiting done since Mike Locksley’s arrival earlier this year could help bring others.
The irony, of course, is that Randy Edsall might have been in Bill O’Brien’s shoes had he not been hired as Friedgen’s successor. Many believe that had Edsall remained at Connecticut, he would have been Penn State’s choice to succeed Paterno rather than the relatively unproven O’Brien, who spent one season as offensive coordinator with the New England Patriots. Edsall’s stock was not only high after taking the Huskies to the Fiesta Bowl in 2010, but the way he handled himself after one of his players was shot to death a couple of years earlier also made college administrators take notice.
As badly as things went for Edsall and the Terps last season, it appears that things have calmed down in College Park and the Terps have signed a bunch of four and five-star players the past few months. That’s not to say the Terps will be able to get in on Christian Hackenberg, the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the country who has orally committed to Penn State for 2013, but given Lockley’s early success in beating out Ohio State to get Stefon Diggs at the 11th hour, you can’t rule anything out.
For those who have followed the Terps for years, there’s a bit of payback here. If there’s anyone who knows about the fallout of severe sanctions, it’s former Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams. Though the Terps were not given the death penalty in the aftermath of violations committed by Bob Wade in the late 1980s, Williams always believed that the NCAA’s heavy-handed sanctions amounted to as much.
Though Penn State didn’t benefit from Maryland’s probation, others did. In a span of two or three years, Wake Forest signed Randolph Childress, Syracuse signed Lawrence Moten and Connecticut signed Donyell Marshall. Though the Terps were put on two years probation and prohibited from playing in a postseason tournament for one year, it took Williams more than three years to rebuild the program. Only the arrival of Joe Smith and Keith Booth in the fall of 1993 speeded up the process.
Penn State football is certainly at a higher level than Maryland basketball was at that point, but the taint left in the aftermath of the Sandusky scandal is worse than anything any college program has dealt with. That includes what happened at SMU (the only school to be given the death penalty) in the late 1980s and years earlier when a number of prominent college basketball programs were shut down, some for good, after the point-shaving scandal in the 1950s and 1960s.
The removal of the Paterno statue Sunday is only the first step in the dismantling of one of college football’s traditional powers.
We’ll know Monday what the sanctions will be on O’Brien and the Nittany Lions.
Don’t be surprised if Edsall’s phone begins ringing Tuesday – if it hasn’t started already.