Penn State's recruiting efforts took a hit on Sunday evening when five-star defensive end recruit Noah Spence of Harrisburg's Bishop McDevitt High School committed to Ohio State and new coach Urban Meyer. Spence had long been a Penn State target, and the Nittany Lions were considered a leader for his services right up until former coach Joe Paterno's firing on Nov. 9 in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
The news, combined with the loss of former four-star defensive tackle commit Tommy Schutt to the Buckeyes last week, highlights the absence of a full-time coach at Penn State. Interim head coach Tom Bradley has been on the road recruiting in recent weeks, but without any promise that he'll be leading the program past the Lions' Jan. 2 matchup with Houston at the TicketCity Bowl in Dallas, he and his staff have faced tough sledding in luring recruits to Happy Valley as others, like Meyer and his staff, have maintained their momentum.
Meanwhile, Penn State's six-person search committee is entering the fourth week of its quest to find Paterno's replacement. By most standards, that's a long time for a program to be in limbo, and the recruiting class of 2012 is suffering as a result of the uncertainty.
That's perfectly okay, though. There are bigger things at stake for the committee than finding someone to steer one group of fickle, underdeveloped high school players with little more than media hype on their resumes toward the program.
Above all else, Penn State needs to find a coach of high character and integrity. The Sandusky scandal will hang over the program for years to come and the next coach will work in its shadow every single day. He must be able to carry that burden professionally and compassionately so that the program can begin to move forward and restore goodwill in the community.
The drawn-out search process indicates the committee understands that and won't consider a single recruiting class a serious priority in light of all that has unfolded over the last two months.
Fans love to track recruiting. Keeping tabs on all the latest star rankings, offers and commitments can often give some more pleasure than watching a team's games, and as a result, those types of fans in the Penn State sphere are growing anxious as more and more top prospects pledge their allegiance to the Lions' conference rivals.
Penn State's situation is far darker than the fun and games, though. While some, despite everything, might still be more worried about scooping up verbals like they're holographic Pokemon cards, university administrators need to go about their search like adults and stick to a meticulous, responsible approach.
If that approach leads to a couple of kids that haven't even attended their high school prom yet choosing to play at Ohio State, so be it.
This search and this scandal is bigger than them, and those who say otherwise fail miserably to see the big picture.