None of us really wants to think about how the Penn State disaster affects something as relatively insignificant as recruiting. It's a question that pales in comparison to the magnitude of the other questions arising from the scandal. But many people depend on Penn State's football future, and that future will be determined by the talent it is able to procure, so it is a question worth working through.
Before the scandal broke, Penn State had a 16-member class that included six four-star players. It wasn't a great class, but Penn State was lined up to close strong and sign one of the better classes in the Big Ten.
Since then, the Nittany Lions have already lost one commitment in Windsor, Colorado offensive tackle Joey O'Connor.
"Earlier this evening I decided to decommit and keep my options open," he said. "Right now, I just wanted to relieve some of this pressure off of me with everything that is going on and concentrate on my senior football season and give my football team the best that I can give them. . .The playing field is wide open right now," he said. "I have not ruled out Penn State. We're just going to take it day by day and figure some things out."
The 6'4" 295 pound tackle prospect was widely considered one of the best 30 available at his position. O'Connor is a significant loss for the PSU recruiting class. The Nittany Lions need two more offensive linemen in this class, and none remaining have the talent of O'Connor.
Two other Penn State commitments are considered likely candidates to decommit as well.
While he hasn't actually said the word "decommit," tight end JP Holtz of the Pittsburgh area is not considered a solid commitment and is exploring his options. An upcoming visit to Pittsburgh on December 2nd doesn't sit easy with the Penn State faithful. Still, Holtz is not an elite prospect and would not be an enormous loss.
Tommy Schutt, on the other hand, would be a huge loss to the class. The 6'3", 301-pound defensive tackle from Illinois is considered one of the elite players at his position nationally. Schutt hasn't been commenting on the Penn State situation, which only fuels more speculation about his chances of signing with Penn State. Look for Michigan and Notre Dame to try and re-insert themselves in the picture.
More than causing decommitments, the scandal has resulted in a chilling effect with potential commitments.
It's important to remember that recruits are often both very immature and image conscious. Shortly after the scandal broke, Noah Spence, the top player in Pennsylvania, of Bishop McDermitt (Harrisburg), tweeted this comment:
Penn State had hoped to land the five-star defensive end, and he certainly would have been a huge pull for a class lacking elite talents. With offers from Ohio State, Alabama, Florida and Notre Dame, it seems Spence will not be staying home.
Joel Caleb, a talented athlete from Midlothian (Va.) Clover Hill is also believed to have moved on from the Nittany Lions and is considering one of several offers.
Also complicating matters: Mike McQueary, central to the scandal, was Penn State's recruiting coordinator for six years. He's been placed on administrative leave and Penn State named Bill Kavanaugh as his replacement.
All of this would be bad enough for the program's recruiting efforts if it were just in the media. But recruiting is a dirty game, and opposing coaches are going to negatively recruit against Penn State with ease.
The excellent Penn State blog, Black Shoe Diaries has a great summary of all the issues being used against the Nittany Lions in negative recruiting:
Unfortunately, Penn State is dealing with the triumverate of issues and uncertainty. First and foremost, a horrendous scandal has erupted on campus, one with a fact pattern that chills many to the bone. Irrespective of the guilt or innocence of most of the parties involved, an 18-year old kid is going to see that as an extreme turn-off (as seen below).
Secondly, Penn State will be dealing with an NCAA investigation. Again, regardless of the guilt or innocence of Penn State in this investigation, the mere appearance of NCAA investigators on campus and news of such investigation in the papers turns some recruiting leans to recruiting not-gonna-happens.
Finally, and probably the most on-point issue, for the recruits at least, is the coaching staff uncertainty. Many times, these kids commit to their recruiters and their coaches, not necessarily the school in question. It's why even current players have hinted at their displeasure with the coaching change. It's why current commits are keeping a close eye on the makeup of Lasch Building come January/February. It's why making the perfect choice for the next permanent head coach is such an important decision, among many other reasons.
Often, negative recruiting is full of lies told by assistant coaches. Penn State has the unique challenge of combating negative recruiting rooted in fact.
Other experts agree that Penn State will have a tough time while the scandal remains in the news.
"I think the fallout on recruiting and the team will be extremely long-lived. Joe Paterno is Penn State football," said Josh Helmholdt, Midwest football recruiting analyst at rivals.com.
Penn State still has great tradition and faciities, including the enormous Beaver Stadium. The program will still take football very seriously. And presumably, the new coach will not be prevented by age and health from going to visit prospects as Joe Paterno was. The same goes for the new staff, which will almost assuredly be younger across the board. Once Penn State clears up the uncertainty, the new coach should have no problems recruiting. But nobody knows how long this will take.