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Not death penalty, but PSU dealt damaging blow

MORE: Four-star CB drops PSU
Penn State didn't receive the death penalty, but its recruiting efforts for the next few years just took a devastating hit.
The NCAA handed down sanctions Monday that included a four-year postseason ban for Penn State and the reduction of 10 scholarships for each of the next four years, as well as a $60 million fine. Penn State also must vacate all of its wins from 1998 to 2011. Current and incoming Penn State players are allowed to transfer without sitting out a year of competition.
"Kids want to go to college to play in championship games and the postseason," Rivals.com Midwest recruiting analyst Josh Helmholdt said. "Now that it's been taken off the table, it's just going to absolutely destroy Penn State's recruiting ability in the short term. Certainly when you reduce scholarships, that hurts recruiting because you can't recruit as many players. But when you're talking about how kids view Penn State as a potential place to play football, not having a chance to play in the postseason for pretty much the duration or a large chunk of their career is going to be a huge, huge deterrent."
Already, Penn State is feeling the effects of the NCAA's action.
Avon (Ohio) cornerback and Rivals250 selection Ross Douglas announced Monday that he was decommitting from Penn State. Two days earlier, Penn State lost the No. 106 overall prospect in the 2013 class when Sicklerville (N.J.) Timber Creek defensive tackle Greg Webb switched his commitment to North Carolina, though Webb's father told TarHeelIllustrated.com the move was made primarily so Webb could play alongside high school teammate and fellow North Carolina recruit Dajuan Drennon.
"It was something we decided before (the announcement) because my family saw it coming," Douglas said. "We prepared ourselves for it, and today was just the icing on the cake. I love Penn State to death, but I have to do what's best for me, and I'm going to look elsewhere."
The NCAA made its decision in the wake of former FBI director Louis Freeh's July 12 report that top school officials, including former Penn State coach Joe Paterno, had covered up sex abuse allegations against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.
Sandusky was convicted last month of sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year span. Paterno died Jan. 22 at the age of 85. A statue of Paterno that had stood outside Beaver Stadium since 2001 was removed Sunday.
"We've kept foremost in our thoughts the tragic damage that has been done to the victims and their families," NCAA president Mark Emmert said. "No matter what we do today, there is no action we can take that will remove their pain and anguish. But what we can do is impose sanctions that both reflect the magnitude of these terrible acts and that also ensure that Penn State will rebuild an athletic culture that went horribly awry."
Penn State will be limited to 15 scholarships for each of the next four recruiting cycles (2013-16). The school can have only 65 total scholarship players from the 2014-17 seasons. FBS programs typically can hand out 25 scholarships per year and can have 85 total scholarship players on their roster.
"It's a little more severe than I expected," Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said of the penalty. "The four-year bowl ban is more than I expected. I expected two to three years. Everything else falls in line with what I expected."
The sanctions put new Penn State coach Bill O'Brien in a tenuous spot.
Even as Penn State went through arguably the biggest scandal in the history of college athletics, O'Brien was assembling a 2013 class that was 16th in the Rivals.com team recruiting rankings. The class included three of the nation's top 150 overall recruits: Camp Hill (Pa.) Cedar Cliff tight end Adam Breneman (No. 27), Little Silver (N.J.) Red Bank Regional defensive end Garrett Sickels (No. 60) and Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy quarterback Christian Hackenberg (No. 143).
"It was headed for a top-15 class," Farrell said. "Now all bets are off."
Farrell considers Breneman and Hackenberg the keys to this class. Hackenberg committed on Feb. 29 and has played a major part in recruiting other prospects to Penn State. Breneman is the highest-rated prospect in Pennsylvania, so his commitment represented a sign that Penn State could continue to land the state's top talent even amid this scandal.
But at the time they committed, the possibility of NCAA sanctions was nothing more than a rumor.
In a statement Monday, Breneman said, "Although I am still processing and discussing the impact of today's announcements with my family and coaches, I did speak with Coach O'Brien and his staff today and I remain committed to Penn State."
If either Hackenberg or Breneman were to decommit, Farrell believes it could produce a domino effect that leads to multiple defections.
"The sanctions change everything," Farrell said. "The sanctions are the one thing I said way back when could splinter this class and could ruin future classes. That's what kids care about. The scandal itself hurt recruiting last year, but it wasn't going to stop kids from going to Penn State. Sanctions will do that."
USC has shown it's possible to survive -- and even thrive -- in the wake of NCAA sanctions. USC was placed on probation in the summer of 2010 and faced penalties that included a two-year bowl ban and the loss of 30 scholarships over a three-year period.
Yet the Trojans went 10-2 and were ranked sixth in the final Associated Press poll last season. USC currently tops the Rivals recruiting rankings for 2013, its second year facing scholarship limits.
Penn State figures to have a much tougher time recovering. For one thing, Penn State's bowl ban is twice as long and its scholarship losses are more severe.
"When USC had that, most of those [recruits] coming in were looking at sitting out of the postseason for maybe one year," Helmholdt said. "That was much, much more manageable than not playing in the postseason for your entire career or at least a large portion of it."
And even under ideal circumstances, Penn State doesn't recruit on equal footing with USC. Penn State has finished in the top 20 of the team recruiting rankings just once in the past six years. USC has recorded top-10 classes each of the last 10 years and topped the recruiting rankings in 2004-06 and 2010.
"USC is Southern California, Hollywood, flash and glamour," Farrell said. "It's the type of program that can bounce back from that because it puts so many kids in the NFL and has so much publicity as far as being a tremendous program over the years. ... You can't compare L.A. to State College, Pa. It will hurt them a lot more."
Farrell suggested Big Ten rivals Ohio State and Michigan as well as Notre Dame could get a recruiting boost from Penn State's sanctions. He also noted a few schools in Penn State's region could benefit from the situation.
"I think it will help Rutgers quite a bit," Farrell said. "I think it will help Pittsburgh quite a bit, West Virginia quite a bit. Those aren't your big-name programs, but when they're battling Penn State for a kid from eastern or western Pennsylvania, more often than not they were going to lose, or at least they'd been losing to Bill O'Brien initially. I think those are the programs that could possibly get those recruits back."
At least one newcomer to Penn State isn't ready to look elsewhere, and that's the coach himself.
O'Brien hasn't coached a game for Penn State yet, and he knows has to make the toughest sales pitch in all of college football. He isn't backing away from the challenge.
"I knew when I accepted the position that there would be tough times ahead," O'Brien said in a statement after the sanctions were announced, "but I am committed for the long term to Penn State and our student-athletes."
Steve Megargee is the national college columnist for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.
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