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Commentary: Illinois approach to Lions’ sanctions was wrong

September 29, 2012
The Altoona Mirror

Moments before kickoff, there's a pre-game announcement made in most collegiate press boxes across the country reminding, "This is a working press box and according to the Football Writers Association of America, cheering is not permitted."

Long ago, violators would have their pens taken. Now, it's their laptops (or, worse, their Twitter feeds.)

Because the media are supposed to be unbiased, I've never had a problem with the rule, which began a half-century ago during more provincial times.

That said, it's no secret that the vast majority of media that follow a particular team, myself included, would prefer the team they're covering win. It just makes everything better - everyone's happier, it's easier to work and, most importantly, it's the readers' preference.

Which brings me to today's game with Illinois: I'll be rooting - privately - for Penn State for this reason: Of all the opponents on the schedule, Illinois coach Tim Beckman reacted to the Nittany Lions' NCAA sanctions more classlessly than anyone.

None of the sanctions have been or will be as difficult for Bill O'Brien and his staff to manage than the NCAA's brainstorm to allow all PSU players to transfer immediately without having to sit out a year.

O'Brien has to and can live with the four-year bowl ban and scholarship reductions, but having to re-recruit his team basically every week through next August - backup quarterback Paul Jones was the latest defection the other day - is his biggest job.

Even though the NCAA said it's OK, Wisconsin's Bret Bielema and Ohio State's Urban Meyer both said they would not contact Penn State's players. Both are not exactly known as the nicest guys to ever walk the sidelines, but in this case they showed some compassion for a fellow Big Ten program.

Beckman, in his first year after previously coaching at Toledo, took a different approach: Shortly after the NCAA's announcement, he dispatched eight assistants to State College.

One Lion, Illinois native and reserve lineman Ryan Nowicki, left, but he hasn't surfaced on the depth chart. Maybe Beckman just wanted his playbook.

Questioned about it earlier this week, Beckman hemmed and hawed and said it was legal and then tried to get rid of the subject as quickly as possible.

Kind of like he caught a grenade.

O'Brien has deflected the issue, and his players, obviously coached to do so, have done the same - which is smart.

Rivalries start in different ways. Usually, it's because the other guy has won his share. Penn State-Illinois hasn't been a rivalry because the Illini trail the series, 15-4, unless you count the Lions' nine vacated wins. Maybe Illinois does.

Either way, you can be sure the passion at Memorial Stadium will be strong today, and if the Nittany Lions are fortunate enough to be in position to win, it will be interesting to see whether O'Brien takes the opportunity to make his own statement with a late-game touchdown.

If so, no one - at least no one in the press box - should blame him. If not, he'll be bigger than Tim Beckman.

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or You can also follow him on Twitter@neilrudel.

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