By Adam Hoge-
CHICAGO (CBS) Tim Beckman’s commissioner might be a little unhappy with him.
Big Ten boss Jim Delany said Thursday at Big Ten Media Days that he originally pushed for Big Ten coaches not to recruit Penn State players who are now eligible to transfer and play right away. Instead, Big Ten presidents came back and unanimously said their coaches need to be able to accept PSU players who are interested in coming to their institution.
To counter, Delany made it clear that he prefers his coaches don’t actively recruit Penn State players, but instead let those players come to them.
Some are listening, others are not.
Beckman confirmed Thursday that he had eight coaches camped out at a State College restaurant outside the Penn State campus Wednesday. His coaching staff was exposed when they were spotted at the airport with their Illini bags in plain sight.
When asked if he was upset about Beckman’s tactics, Delany said he hadn’t outlined his recruiting preferences to the coaches until Thursday morning, but he reiterated his desire for coaches not to actively pursue the players.
That explains why Beckman repeatedly made it clear Thursday that his coaches were located outside of Penn State’s campus Wednesday. They notified interested players where they were and let those players come to them.
“I told the staff before we went that we’re going to go so the players can come to us. Not us go to them,” Beckman said. “I don’t know if that makes it right or not, but that’s what I said as a head football coach.”
What’s “right” was a hot topic at the McCormick Place Hyatt Thursday.
Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema said he was not going after Penn State players out of “respect.”
Ohio State’s Urban Meyer said he had “a problem” with teams being able to recruit Penn State but would not elaborate. Unlike most schools, Ohio State is not allowed to go over its current scholarship limit of 75 to add PSU players because it is currently facing sanctions.
Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald said he watched NCAA President Mark Emmert’s press conference Monday with his staff and together they made the decision not to pursue Penn State players.
Other coaches, like Indiana’s Kevin Wilson and Nebraska’s Bo Pelini, said they weren’t actively recruiting Penn State but would listen if PSU players wanted to join their programs.
Overall, seven coaches — Bielema, Meyer, Wilson, Fitzgerald, Jerry Kill (Minnesota), Bo Pelini (Nebraska), Mark Dantonio (Michigan State), Brady Hoke (Michigan) — said they weren’t actively recruiting Penn State’s players.
“We kind of made a decision — I’d be lying if I didn’t say we didn’t look at the roster to some degree — but we’ve kind of made a decision that we’re going to stay and recruit the guys and keep our business our business,” Hoke said.
Meanwhile, Purdue’s Danny Hope said he would look into any opportunity he had to improve his team.
Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio said he was following up with players interested in coming to East Lansing. He said he has “respect” for the Penn State program, but “we have a job to do.”
Beckman has a job to do too and quite frankly, he could use some of Penn State’s players. But does he see the “respect” side of it for those coaches that are choosing not to recruit PSU?
“Yes, but I also feel there’s respect for those individuals if they want to transfer,” he said. “That was what we were doing. We just wanted to give the student-athlete an opportunity if they would like to change and come to the University of Illinois, and that’s what they did.”
Beckman confirmed that Penn State players showed up at the restaurant, but he would not say how many. He also would not say if any players had decided to transfer to Illinois, but Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien said he had not yet been notified by any of his players that they were leaving.
When Mark Emmert opened the door Monday to an unprecedented recruiting season — something O’Brien referred to as “NFL free agency without the rules” Thursday — he clearly caught coaches across the country off guard.
The NCAA clarified the Penn State recruiting rules Tuesday, but Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz — who has reached out to O’Brien about his players — still called the situation “confusing” Thursday.
Clearly, a number of Big Ten coaches have different feelings about how they should handle the Penn State situation. O’Brien is struggling with it too.
“They can do what they want as long as they tell our compliance office,” the PSU head coach said.
But in referring to two Big Ten coaches in particular, O’Brien had two different responses.
In regards to Bielema, who said he wasn’t going after PSU players out of “respect”, O’Brien said:
“Let me tell you how much respect I have for Bret Bielema, what he’s done at the University of Wisconsin. He’s a heck of a football coach and it’s proven on and off the field.”
Then, when specifically asked if he had talked to Tim Beckman, O’Brien emphatically responded:
That was it. Meanwhile, Beckman claimed the two briefly talked Thursday morning, but did not discuss recruiting.
Honestly, this is a no-win situation for the first-year Illinois head coach.
Illini fans want him to field the best team possible, but now he’s being criticized for pursuing transfers from Penn State despite being well within the NCAA rules. He’s not the only Big Ten coach doing it, but he’s the only one being open about it.
Asked if he has anything to apologize for, Beckman said: “Not at all, we’re just following the rules of the NCAA.”
Fans should probably be encouraged by Beckman’s decision to push the envelop a little bit. Unfortunately, he might make some enemies in the process.
And he might have to take a couple of extra phone calls from the commissioner.
Adam is the Sports Editor for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.