ATHENS - Normally we only weigh in on events with a more direct impact on Georgia, but this event is clearly a big deal for all of college football - and all of college athletics.
The NCAA, which up until now has had a reputation for being rather feckless with rules violators, has brought the hammer down on Penn State - a school not charged with the typical NCAA violations.
Instead, a finding of a lack of institutional control stemming from the Jerry Sandusky scandal has resulted in the NCAA effectively shutting down Penn State for the near future:
- A four-year postseason ban.
- A reduction in scholarships of 10 per year for the next four years.
- A $60 million fine, with the money going towards child molestation awareness.
- Joe Paterno's wins from 1998-2011 being vacated, thus making Bobby Bowden the new winningest coach in Division I-A history. Eddie Robinson now takes over the Division I record.
It's a quite remarkable set of penalties, especially considering this is not a normal case. It's harsher than what be-fell Southern California and Ohio State. It's less than what SMU got, but the NCAA has said it will never institute the death penalty again.
And boy, does this feel like a death penalty.
Penn State has effectively been shut down as a football program for four years. The postseason ban, the length of an athlete's playing career, will make it impossible for the Nittany Lions to recruit star-caliber players until the ban is over.
In addition, the NCAA will allow any Penn State players to transfer immediately without having to sit a season. This will of course spark many Georgia fans to wonder if their program could poach anybody. We will keep an eye on this, but off the top of my head, and journalistic notepad, there isn't anybody obvious, the way there was with Jarvis Jones at USC a few years ago.
(Jones, incidentally, was an underclassmen who did not fall under the NCAA's transfer-without-sitting rule. For USC, it was players with less than two years of eligibility.)
But as we know, Georgia is hurting in the scholarship numbers, thanks to all this offseason attrition. So if the Bulldogs are motivated enough, they could pursue some players. But the 85 scholarship limit apparently won't be an impediment to other schools either, as the NCAA will allow Penn State players to transfer to schools already at their limit. They are treating this as a special case.
There also isn't much overlap in recruiting between Georgia and Penn State. Tight end Arthur Lynch, a Massachusetts native, is the only Bulldog player I can think of who was recruited very closely by Penn State.
But there is one direct connection between the programs.
John Thomas served as Paterno's strength and conditioning coordinator for two decades, before leaving amid the controversy early this year to join Georgia's staff. He is now Georgia's associate director of strength and conditioning, working with Joe Tereshinski.
This past spring, Thomas was understandably guarded when asked about Paterno and what was going on there.
But with today's news, you have to imagine Thomas is feeling a lot of conflicting emotions. He has to be happy that he got out of Penn State when he could. But he also has to be very upset and sad over what's going on at a place he spent so much time.
12:45 p.m.: Additional thoughts
A few of you have asked, via Twitter, about Georgia trying to poach Penn State players. Two players in particular have been mentioned:
Defensive end Deion Barnes, who chose Penn State over Georgia last year, and was redshirted in 2011. Barnes is from Philadelphia.
Linebacker Khairi Fortt also chose the Nittany Lions over the Bulldogs, back in 2009. Fortt, a junior from Connecticut, played in every game last season, recording 2.5 sacks.
Frankly, this is all too fresh for there to be any movement right away. The fact that neither Barnes or Fortt is from Georgia makes it less likely - if they do elect to leave Penn State - that they will automatically come to Georgia.
I also wouldn't expect that Thomas, whom I talked about before, will be heavily involved in any attempted recruiting of Penn State players. I'm sure Thomas would be consulted on player evaluation, but that's about it.
The timing of all this, coming about a week before the start of practice, also makes it problematic for immediate transfers. My initial reaction - and I could end up wildly wrong on this - is that there won't be a mass exodus, at least right away. It's too close to the start of the season, and the emotional reaction of many current Nittany Lion players will be to stick around.
But as the reality of the sanctions settle in, I think more players will decide to bolt. And it's being reported that the current players will have the freedom to transfer without sitting out a year whenever they make that decision. There is no immediate deadline.
Georgia can't comment on specific players. In a general sense, perhaps they will have some reaction tonight in Atlanta, where they will speak to the major Bulldog Club event. I'll be there, and as always will pass along anything relevant.