Hawks cautiously pursuing a Penn State player

BY SAM LOUWAGIE | JULY 27, 2012 6:30 AM

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CHICAGO — Bill O’Brien compared the past few days to “NFL free agency, without the rules.”
So it makes sense that Kirk Ferentz, with his background in the professional league, would be one of the Nittany Lion suitors.

O’Brien, the first-year Penn State head coach, told ESPN Radio on Wednesday morning that Ferentz was one of a handful of coaches who had contacted him about potential interest in a player. Penn State players and commitments became free to transfer anywhere in the country as part of NCAA sanctions levied against the school on Monday.

Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta confirmed the Hawkeyes had been in contact with one Penn State player on the league’s media day on Wednesday.

“We’d been approached by one of the student-athletes, and Kirk called [O’Brien] and said, ‘Hey, I just want you to be aware of this,’ ” Barta said. “We’re not going to be aggressively recruiting, but we will take the calls and see where it goes from there.”

Barta said to his knowledge, no Iowa coach had been to State College, Pa., to visit the player. He said it was a player the Hawkeyes “had a relationship with prior” to the sanctions.

Ferentz said the team was approaching the situation with caution.

“What’s going on in that regard is extremely complex and confusing, so probably the best path for anybody is to make sure they’re in compliance,” he said. “You handle it in whatever way you feel is appropriate. I think a lot of people are taking a lot of approaches to it. I’m really comfortable with the approach we’re taking right now.”

Those different approaches were on display at Big Ten media day. A few coaches announced they are not interested in recruiting any Penn State players. Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema cited a bond among conference teams.

“I’ve made the decision as a head coach that we will not reach out to any Penn State players,” he said. “I think one of the things I’ve loved and appreciated about being in this conference is there is a genuine respect for everybody in our league and that you are a Big Ten brother.”

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald had similar thoughts.

“There may be free agency created by rules and regulations, but we’re not going to be a part of it,” he said. “I believe there are certain things we’re going to do and stand for as a program, and this is one of those types of decisions.”

That was in contrast to Illinois coach Tim Beckman, who admitted eight Illini assistant coaches traveled to State College this week to meet with Nittany Lion players. The coaches set up on the outskirts of campus and met with interested players. Beckman declined to say whether any had decided to transfer to Illinois.

Beckman said Illinois’ compliance officer sent a list to Penn State of the players the Illini would contact. He said the school had followed NCAA rules and even made sure to technically stay off the Penn State campus.

During his ESPN Radio interview, O’Brien expressed agitation with the coaches who were recruiting Penn State players without contacting him as “a professional courtesy.”

O’Brien said he had not heard from Beckman about Illinois’ recruiting efforts. He declined to offer any specifics on Thursday about his conversation with Ferentz but said he appreciated the 14-year Hawkeye head coach’s direct call.

“We live in this conference, we work in this conference,” Ferentz said. “I’ve got great respect for Bill O’Brien and his staff, and that’s important to us as well.”

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