Penn State Football: How Talk of Death Penalty Will Impact 2013 Recruiting

Ian HanfordFeatured ColumnistJuly 22, 2012

Courtesy of
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The NCAA will pass down its ruling on Penn State's football program Monday morning. The words "death penalty" still loom large in everyone's mind despite ESPN's report stating that the program will not face "death."

Tons of speculation has been thrown around. A massive fine seems certain, but anything beyond that is completely up in the air at this point. 

One thing is certain. Penn State's program is changed forever, and that begins with its 2013 recruiting class. Not just those already committed, but every player Bill O'Brien and Penn State's new coaching staff are heavily pursuing. 

We'd be remiss if we thought it wouldn't impact their ability to recruit. It should. Elite 11 quarterback Christian Hackenberg has already stated his commitment to ESPN:

O'Brien last week told Hackenberg to "stay strong."

"He's on board with me," Hackenberg said, "and I'm on board with him."

The only situation under which Hackenberg would leave Penn State, he said, is if it was handed the death penalty. Less significant sanctions would not prompt Hackenberg to switch his commitment, he said.

"At the end of the day," Hackenberg said, "if there's football at Penn State, I'm going to be there."

I'm not calling Hackenberg a liar. Matt Barkley and a slew of USC players withstood the Trojans' sanctions, but we don't really know what he will do until the time comes. 

Use 4-star defensive tackle Greg Webb as an example. He switched his commitment on Saturday, according to

New Jersey defensive lineman Greg Webb withdrew his oral pledge to attend Penn State in favor of North Carolina.

UNC recruiting sites reported Friday that Webb had reopened his recruiting and planned to visit the Tar Heels' Chapel Hill campus on Saturday.

The report does state that Webb chose North Carolina after his high school teammate DaJuan Drennon chose Chapel Hill, but who knows what role this massive scandal played in his choice? It had to make it easier. 

Penn State's current recruits may stay strong. Hackenberg and O'Brien's relationship could create a pillar of strength for the rest of the class to rally around, but there's no doubt that it will have an impact. Recruits will have their doubts about the integrity of the Nittany Lions program, and that will weigh heavily in their minds. 

When it comes to recruits, it's not about the severity of the sanctions in my eyes. The damage to Penn State's program has already been done, with or without restrictions on postseason play or fines. 

This is a program that has prided itself on its integrity. It has been the "white knight" of college football for what feels like forever. It was able to get the recruits it did using that as a major portion of its sales pitch.

Players didn't just buy into the football. They bought into the Penn State way.

Now, that's gone. It may come back, but it's not going to be anytime soon. 

It's hard to crawl inside the head of each individual recruit, but, if nothing else, it's going to make their decision to attend Penn State much more difficult.