Big Ten Notebook: O'Brien reacts to NCAA ruling


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Bill O’Brien was adamant on Tuesday that recruiting has never been a problem since he’s become the head football coach at Penn State. With the academics, playing football in the Big Ten, and the State College community, “the place [sells] itself,” he said.

What O’Brien admitted to being a struggle was the numbers. The historic sanctions placed on Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal significantly reduced the number of football scholarships he could dish out each recruiting season. O’Brien and his staff could only sign 15 players for four years starting in 2012.

But Tuesday morning brought a bit of good news for O’Brien and his football program — and perhaps his recruiting strategy, too. The NCAA stated that, beginning next year, the sanctions against Penn State will gradually be reduced in the form of scholarship restoration.

“When the rules changed a little bit, we adapted to those rules,” O’Brien said during Tuesday’s Big Ten teleconference. “We know we can’t go to a bowl or compete for a championship, but we definitely can get more on an even playing field numbers-wise, and that’s what we’re concentrating on as a staff.”

The postseason ban remains in effect, but NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement that future modifications to the sanctions aren’t out of the question.

Penn State was originally capped at 65 scholarships starting in 2014. But the NCAA changed it to 75 starting in 2014, and the number will be 80 the next season, with the full allotment of 85 by 2016.

The scholarship reduction was claimed to be the biggest of the sanctions handed down by Emmert and the NCAA. The other major sanctions included a $60 million fine, a postseason ban through 2015 and the dismissal of wins between 1998-2011.

But Tuesday marked a step in the right direction for the Nittany Lion football program. The NCAA Executive Committee made its decision based on the recommendation of former Sen. George Mitchell, who now serves as the independent athletics integrity monitor for Penn State.

“While there is more work to be done, Penn State has clearly demonstrated its commitment to restoring integrity in its athletics program,” Mitchell said in a release from the NCAA. “The university has substantially completed the initial implementation of all the Freeh Report recommendations and its obligations to the Athletics Integrity Agreement, so relief from the scholarship reductions is warranted and deserved.”

Buckeyes, Badgers set for Saturday showdown

Aside from the battle for the Floyd of Rosedale, the only other football game this weekend that pits two Big Ten teams against each other will be the Ohio State-Wisconsin game in Columbus, Ohio.

Buckeye football coach Urban Meyer opened his portion of Tuesday’s Big Ten teleconference by seemingly breathing a sigh of relief in knowing the nonconference schedule was finished. Ohio State sits at 4-0 and is ranked No. 4 in the country heading into its home game with Wisconsin.

This weekend’s game is likely the biggest home contest for the Scarlet and Gray this season — no other teams they’re slated to host are currently ranked. But this game, scheduled for a 7 p.m. kickoff, brings out more implications than a normal conference match.

“Anytime you have a night game, it gives recruits a chance to get here,” Meyer said. “With the earlier games, it’s much more difficult to get people from outside the two hours to get here to watch the games. That’s a big part of it. We’ll have a bunch of official visits.”

Wisconsin, ranked 23rd nationally, is coming off a 41-10 rebound victory over Purdue. Last week’s win followed Wisconsin’s bizarre finish against Arizona State, in which the Badgers dropped a 32-30 game in the waning seconds.

But if the early season games are an indicator, this game could showcase fireworks. The two teams have combined to outscore their opponents 374-103 — the Buckeyes average 52.5 points per game, and the Badgers average a mere 45 a contest.

“Tremendous football team. We have a ton of respect for them,” Wisconsin football coach Gary Anderson said in a release. “The speed, the athleticism they have is very, very good. They’re very well-coached.”

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