It was just last year that OSU and Penn State were paired as the two marquee programs in the Leaders Division. Now, while the games on Saturdays are trivial in comparison to the child sex-abuse scandal that rocked the nation, a new reality has emerged.
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The fallout from the sanctions that leveled Penn State's football program resounded far beyond Happy Valley on Monday.
The sweeping penalties rewrote the past, present, and future of the Big Ten, producing a dramatically changed landscape for conference rivals like Ohio State.
Record books will be rearranged -- the Buckeyes are now outright league champions in 2005 and 2008. Opportunistic coaches will poach PSU players and recruits permitted to migrate without penalty. And the fall of a traditional power will warp the balance of the conference's two divisions for years to come.
It was just last year that OSU and Penn State were paired as the two marquee programs in the Leaders Division. Now, while the games on Saturdays are trivial in comparison to the child sex-abuse scandal that rocked the nation, a new reality is clear.
"There is a very significant competitive impact," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said Monday.
He called the scandal "as damaging as any set of actions or activities that I've been involved with in my 33 years as commissioner." And as a result, Penn State will suffer consequences not approached since SMU's football program received the so-called "death penalty" and was shut down in 1987.
Penn State must pay a $60 million fine to the NCAA, forfeit $13 million in conference bowl revenue over the next four years, and vacate former coach Joe Paterno's victories from 1998 to 2011. But more damaging, the school faces a four-year postseason ban and severe scholarship reductions -- damaging first-year coach Bill O'Brien's ability to recruit and field a competitive team.
"It will be very, very tough to win there, and it will be very tough to recruit there," said Allen Trieu, a Midwest recruiting analyst for Scout.com.
For Ohio State, the result is significantly less competition from a top rival inside and outside the lines.
That begins today. The modern recruiting world is merciless, and OSU may join the feeding frenzy. First-year coach Urban Meyer convinced four Penn State commits to switch their pledges to the Buckeyes in his first recruiting class. Now, all PSU players and recruits are effectively free agents.
The NCAA announced it will allow Penn State players to transfer and be immediately eligible. Delany even suggested they will be able to bolt without restrictions for another Big Ten school -- a move that under normal circumstances requires players to sit out a year and forgo one season of eligibility.
"At first blush, our orientation would be to support as much freedom as possible for those students," he said.
A migration of Nittany Lions recruits is expected. Of the 14 prospects committed last week to O'Brien's 2013 class, two have backed off their pledge, including touted defensive back Ross Douglas from Avon, Ohio. More could follow, including potential Buckeyes targets Dorian Johnson and Adam Breneman.
Johnson, a four-star offensive tackle from Belle Vernon, Pa., reportedly visited OSU last month before choosing Penn State while Breneman, a five-star prospect from Camp Hill, Pa., ranked by Rivals.com as the top tight end in the country, chose PSU over Ohio State, Notre Dame, and Maryland. Both players declined to speak to reporters Monday.
"There are some kids that legitimately just really like Penn State and the environment there and things besides the football program," Trieu said. "But I would be surprised if at least half didn't decommit of the guys that are committed now."
Longer term, recruiting analysts expect Penn State's postseason ban and scholarship restrictions will allow Ohio State to establish further inroads in Pennsylvania. PSU will be restricted to 65 scholarship players from 2014 to 2017 -- 20 short of a full complement -- and unable to field a complete roster until 2020.
"It's going to change the dynamic because Pennsylvania is a very talent-laden area," Trieu said. "This will open up the borders a little bit for some of these Big Ten schools."
In fact, the dynamic is poised to change so much that Delany was asked if he considered realigning the Big Ten's divisions. The Leaders and Legends Divisions were based not on geography but balance. OSU, Penn State, and Wisconsin anchored the Leaders Division. Michigan and Nebraska headlined the Legends Division, which also includes Michigan State and Iowa.
This year, with Ohio State and Penn State ineligible for postseason play, division favorite Wisconsin need only hold off Illinois, Purdue, and Indiana to earn a bid in the conference championship game. And the integrity of the Leaders Division will remain compromised until Penn State regains its footing. Yet Delany did not anticipate any reactionary shifts. "You never say never but my inclination is with the leadership in place [at Penn State], I think they're looking to the future," he said. "They all understood serious sanctions were possible, and I don't think that we have any plans to realign teams and institutions. Our structure is set for decades and not years."
Delany also declared the scandal would not influence the Big Ten's stance on further expansion, saying, "We're not active." He instead expressed a desire for continuity. For as much as wallop as Monday's news packed, the Big Ten in the end remained fundamentally unchanged. Penn State football will not be banished nor kept off television.
For Ohio State, the only tangible sign of the league's Black Monday was the result of Penn State's vacated wins. OSU is expected to be credited with outright league titles in 2005 and 2008. (OSU lost to Penn State both years and finished the regular season tied with the Nittany Lions at 7-1).
But it was not an occasion for joy.
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith deferred comment, saying in a statement, "It is a sad day and our thoughts continue to be with the victims."
"This is not a proud moment for the Big Ten," University of Iowa president Sally Mason said.
Contact David Briggs at firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084, or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.
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