STATE COLLEGE, PA - NOVEMBER 12: A Penn State fan carries a "Say it ain't so" sign outside Beaver Stadium after the Penn State vs. Nebraska NCAA football game in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal on November 12, 2011 in State College, Pennsylvania. Penn State lost their final home game 17-14 to Nebraska. Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno was fired amid allegations that former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was involved with child sex abuse. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
A sad off-the-field story will have repercussions on the field as well. Pitt and other local schools will likely benefit from Penn State's problems.
What happened at Penn State was terrible. The coverup was, and still is, stunning. Joe Paterno's legacy has been tarnished in the most unimaginable, shocking, and horrifyingly unpredictable way possible. Those victims suffered in the worst way.
And yet here I am about to talk about football. If, but more likely when, the NCAA lowers the boom on the Nittany Lions, shockwaves will be felt around college football. Nowhere will those shockwaves be more severe than in Western Pennsylvania. I believe that three programs (Ohio State, West Virginia, and your Pitt Panthers) will benefit from the punishment that will likely be levied against the Lions. Some think Penn State will police themselves and dole out their own sanctions. Considering how they policed themselves in these past 15 years, I doubt they'll do it right. I believe the NCAA will be forced to punish the program, but will avoid the infamous 'Death Penalty.' After the scandal at SMU, the NCAA's reaction, and their nearly three-decade-long journey back to relevance, I doubt the NCAA will ever swing that large of a hammer again. In any case, the penalties will be severe, and a combination of a bowl ban, scholarship reductions, and other penalties are assuredly on the horizon.
For years, Penn State and Ohio State have managed to swoop into Western Pennsylvania and steal elite talent from WPIAL high schools located only a stone's throw away from Pitt's Oakland campus. Players like Terrelle Pryor, Sean Lee, Justin King, and Anthony Morelli went on to have productive (and controversial) college careers at places not named Pitt. And yes, I just included Anthony Morelli in that list. This year, we are still seeing Penn State put together a highly-ranked class. PSU snatched local prospect Dorian Johnson out from under Pitt head coach Paul Chryst. I find this an amazing and stupefying, but short-lived, recruiting success. I doubt this will continue if the NCAA lowers the boom.
With Chryst and his new system poised to move to the ACC, in all likelihood in 2013, and new Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer doing his usual thing in Columbus, the footing could get slippery for the Nittany Lions in Western PA. As much as Penn State has recruited all over the East Coast, it still needs local prospects from Western PA to be successful. I'm also neglecting the Dana Holgorsen effect and the Mountaineers' move from the Big East to the Big I-can't-even-keep-track-anymore. Did I fail to mention the now-required 'We scored 70 points against Clemson' statement? My fault.
Chryst putting together a decent season before the conference shift, combined with Meyer and Holgorsen lurking, and sprinkled with a few NCAA penalties, could be the recipe for disaster for new PSU coach. Pitt and neighboring schools could benefit for years. And Penn State may struggle to regain its once-pristine image. It will likely never return no matter how hard they try. Public perception is hard to change.
In the end, it's a sad story for everyone involved. There shouldn't be joy amongst Pitt fans. However, fans need to understand how the fallout will affect many local programs. There are many ways to crash and burn, but Penn State has managed to do it in the most spectacular and tragic way possible. Others will benefit and PSU's program will suffer. In the end, however, no amount of suffering on the field will right the wrongs done off it.