Recapping The B1G Negative Recruiting Story Involving Penn State

How a weeks-old interview with Nittany Lion coach James Franklin became the hot topic at B1G Media Days in Chicago.

CHICAGO — So what is all of the hubbub concerning negative recruiting at Big Ten Media Days here?

Let’s break it down step by step.

• In an interview with Rich Scarcella of the Reading Eagle that was published June 26, Penn State coach James Franklin was asked about his outlook for the 2016 season. Franklin told Scarcella the following:

You can read the full interview here:

“In a really healthy place. The one thing that I can't predict is when there is going to be finality to everything. A month ago, I'm in Chicago at a wedding of one of my former players and the most recent things (allegations that late Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was told that Sandusky abused children in the 1970s) come up. I spend all Friday and Saturday on the phone talking to all of our players because other schools are contacting them and telling them the NCAA is going to get involved again and impose more sanctions. I think everybody will feel really good when everything has been resolved and we can truly put this thing in our past. When I say our past, I don't mean we just move on. We have to learn and grow from those experiences. We have to have things in place to make sure we don't have any issues moving forward. I think one of the things that's a challenge is as Penn Staters, we're so proud and we know what we're all about and who we are. The people we're competing with — Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame — this is just not something they have to deal with. Although we want to move on, those other schools are not letting us move on.”

If you read that closely, you will note that Franklin says other schools are negatively recruiting against Penn State using the false narrative that the university could be facing more NCAA sanctions stemming from the Sandusky scandal (more on this later).

He later says the schools PSU recruits against — Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Notre Dame — don’t face the challenge.

But THEN, he said “those other schools are not letting us move on.”

So Franklin never directly stated that Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Notre Dame are negatively recruiting against PSU.But a reasonable person could have read that implication into his statement.

• In a July 24 interview with FOS and several other media outlets, Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour was asked about Franklin’s earlier comments and whether she felt the need to address negative recruiting tactics — again, as it pertained to the Sandusky scandal.

“Particularly if you felt like it was happening in your own conference, I think that’s when you have the conversation,” she said.

When a reporter said he felt Barbour was saying the negative recruiting was NOT coming from Big Ten schools, she smiled and said, “I didn’t say that. … Again, I believe if it is happening in our conference, it needs to be addressed.”

Barbour said the NCAA and Big Ten had both “closed the door” on the Sandusky situation at Penn State.

Here is our whole story.

• At Big Ten Media Days here Tuesday, the following exchange took place between a reporter and Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio:

Q. “James Franklin was speaking to the Reading Eagle and alluded to negative recruiting of Michigan State towards Penn State. For those that have known you for a long time that does not seem your MO. Can you address that? Is that something you guys have done or not?”

COACH DANTONIO: “I know we have a lot of reporters here. Everybody's got a pen. But from my standpoint, I have not said anything negative about Penn State. And hopefully our coaches have not as well.

“So I was surprised to read that. I don't know what happens out there on the road completely. But it's not our MO. And that's not how we do business.”

And this exchange between the same reporter and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer:

Q. James Franklin speaking to the Reading Eagle said that Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan have been negatively recruiting against Penn State. In fairness, I did not get a chance to ask Harbaugh but I did Dantonio. Could you address that? Is that something that Ohio State does?

COACH MEYER: “Absolutely not. And that's the first time I've heard that. I'll address that with Coach Franklin if that is an issue. That's a pretty strong allegation that I've not heard yet. So that's not been presented to me until this moment. Absolutely not.

“We’ve got a great deal of respect for every school in our conference. We do just fine in recruiting to not worry about that stuff. I’m glad you told me that, if it’s true, I’ll address that.”

• A few minutes later, Barbour met with Penn State beat writers and doubled down on her previous comments.

"I made some pretty pointed comments a week ago,” Barbour said. "There's different levels of negative recruiting. There's taking facts and making sure that — instead of espousing your positives, espousing someone else's negatives. What I was specifically referring to last week was making stuff up, and things that are not factual. That's a fact, that that is happening. We're hearing it from prospective student-athletes, and we'll handle it.”

Also, this:

“I would hope particularly within our conference there would be honor. But we’ll compete on the field.”

She said it was “an internal matter we’ll handle” and again declined to specifically name schools using the tactics.

• A short while later, Franklin, who did his media interviews Monday, spoke to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports about the controversy (he was not made available to PSU beat writers). Feldman said Franklin “was surprised to hear the direction things had gone.”

See the story here.

"All I said was that every kid that we're recruiting is also being recruited by Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Notre Dame and that they don't have the same challenges that we have now," Franklin said. "Then, in a separate quote, I mentioned that right now we're (dealing) with negative recruiting. It was two separate quotes, though, over a 35-minute interview. 

"I never said that any of those schools are the ones doing the negative recruiting against us. They're not. There is one other particular school, but I didn't name who that was."

THE LOWDOWN: Considering the timing of Barbour’s quotes last week (a few days before this big event in Chicago), this sure looked like a strategic play to finally stop schools from using this particular brand of negative recruiting — specifically, suggesting PSU could face more sanctions stemming from the Sandusky scandal. The fact that she did not back away from the comments even after other Big Ten coaches had been asked about the negative recruiting was further evidence that she was intent on making a point. 

And from that perspective, the ploy was a success. Comments that were made in late June and largely ignored for a month are — as of Tuesday afternoon — THE hot topic at Big Ten Media Days.

Whatever conversations Meyer and Franklin may have, moving forward it is difficult to imagine anyone in the conference telling a recruit Penn State could be facing more sanctions stemming from the Sandusky scandal.

But … when asked to name specific schools who were engaging in the tactic — because making vague accusations could cause programs that were NOT doing it to be unfairly criticized — she declined. 

So for Franklin to suggest he was surprised at the way the narrative unfolded is more than a little disingenuous.

As for Barbour’s comment that “we’ll compete on the field,” everything going down in Chicago this week pretty much ensures the Buckeyes, Wolverines and Spartans will all bring their “A” games (and then some) when facing the still-rebuilding Nittany Lions this fall.

UPDATE: Mark Dantonio on if has spoked to James Franklin about this matter:


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