July 26, 2012

Dantonio open to considering PSU transfers

CHICAGO - Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio acknowledged at Big Ten Media Days that the Spartans have received contact from at least one Penn State player interested in possibly looking to transfer.

"I'm not going to say who or how many approached us or their high school coach or those type of things," Dantonio said. "So we'll just leave that one alone."

Dantonio indicated that Michigan State does not have a closed-door policy toward Penn State players that may look to transfer to MSU.

Penn State players are free to transfer to any NCAA school and maintain immediate eligibility, according to NCAA sanctions handed down on Monday as a result of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal.

A player transferring from one Big Ten school to another would normally have to forego his scholarship and enroll as a walk-on. But the Big Ten Conference is waiving that rule for Penn State players this year.

A transfer would not count toward a program's limit of 85 scholarships. Michigan State is currently maxed out at 85, heading into August camp.

Dantonio is one of at least three Big Ten coaches who have acknowledged some level of interest in Penn State players. Illinois coach Tim Beckman said members of his coaching staff were in State College, Pa., earlier this week, contacting Penn State players and inviting them to visit with them at an off-campus establishment.

When asked if he had a comment about Beckman's aggressive pursuit of Penn State players, new Penn State coach Bill O'Brien sternly answered, "No."

Purdue coach Danny Hope is open to the pursuit of Penn State players.

"The NCAA has established the rules and the guidelines and as long as we're compliant, we're going to exercise every opportunity we can to enhance our own football team," Hope said.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke said the Wolverines considered looking at Penn State players.

"I'd be lying if I didn't say we didn't look at the roster to some degree," Hoke said. "But we've kind of made a decision that we're going to stay and recruit the guys and keep our business our business."

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and Wisconsin coach Brett Bielema are vehemently against pursuing Penn State players.

"I have a problem with that," Meyer said. "A player has a right to choose, especially by the rules, to go where he wants. To actively go get a player on another team, I didn't look into it."

Bielema has pursued recruits who have been committed to other schools in the past, and re-stated on Thursday that he will continue to do it. He stated flatly that he is not part of any gentleman's agreement that may have existed between conference coaches on this matter in the past.

"We never refrain from recruiting players that are committed to other places if they want to be recruited," Bielema said. "I hope that would never change. And the great thing, I think, within our conference is that as this recruiting process plays out year-in, year-out, coaches are able to kind of just let things happen as they are and realize that every kid is in charge of his own mission to get to where he wants to be."

But Bielema said he never considered pursuing current Penn State players.

"I made the decision as a head coach we would not reach out to any Penn State players," Bielema said. "I think that what Penn State is going through right now is something that they have championed over the last several days and the last several weeks. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach O'Brien and everything that he's going forward."

Dantonio Trying To Be 'Above Board'

Dantonio said ethical issues needed to be taken into account before listening to parents or coaches of current Penn State players who might be interested in transferring to Michigan State.

"What we've tried to do is first acknowledge the situation," Dantonio said. "I don't think there's any winners when you speak to that entire situation. But at the same time, acknowledge that we have a program that we have to run and try and get better. And so what we have done is if people have contacted us, a coach, a parent, we've followed through. And that's the extent of it.

"And if there's people that are receptive to that and come back with us, I understand that. I'm here to create opportunities, but we're not going to invest in going beyond that.

"The ball is in their (the players') court, not ours. We are not pursuing.

"I would want to do this with respect Penn State in any way that I can, with integrity. But at the same time, we have a job to do, and we do have relationships with some players that have gone there because we recruited them at an earlier time."

Players that Michigan State has recruited in the past who are part of the current Penn State roster include:

  • Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Anthony Zettel, of West Branch, Mich.

  • Sophomore defensive end C.J. Olaniyan, of Warren, Mich.

  • Redshirt freshman offensive tackle Donovan Smith, of Owings Mills, Md.

    Each of the three took official visits to Michigan State while in high school.

    "I do think that you have to know the individual, because there's two sides to this story," Dantonio said. "There's the team over here that may be losing players, but there's the team over here that has to bring the right type of people there to be involved in your family.

    "So obviously, you have to have a little bit of knowledge from them in the past and who they are as people. And that's what we've tried to do. We just haven't gone off the deep end there in that respect."

    In terms of deciding whether or not to accept a player who may want to transfer to Michigan State, Dantonio said the Spartan program is still formulating its approach.

    "This just happened on Monday, so initially there is shock involved," Dantonio said. "There is that initial shock to everyone, to the coach, to the player, to other NCAA members. There is that initial shock in terms of, what do we do? And then I think everything starts to settle down and becomes a little bit more realistic, and now, 'Okay is this the right decision to make?' And then you go from there.

    "You have to ask what needs to you need to address as a football progam? What? Who? What positions? What years are they, and how does that equate to your football team in terms of your depth, your starters, etcetera.

    "Also, do you have relationships with those people? Do you know their coaches? Have you recruited them before? Have they approached you?"

    Zettel and Smith may be attractive to Michigan State.

    In Smith's case, the Spartans boast strong depth at a number of positions, but MSU is low on young offensive tackles, having signed only one offensive tackle prospect in the past two recruiting classes. MSU has yet to gain a commitment from an offensive tackle for the class of 2013.

    Smith visited Michigan State, North Carolina State and Maryland before committing to Penn State one month before signing day in 2011. Smith is projected to be a second-string offensive tackle for the Nittany Lions this fall.

    Zettel visited Iowa, Michigan State and Michigan before committing to Penn State, five weeks before 2011's signing day.

    When asked if there is a chance that a former Penn State will be on the Michigan State roster in camp next week, Dantonio said: "I can't answer that because these conversations are going on more in their camp and in their families. I think what you also have to recognize is that they have a change in coaches as well, so some players - whether because they are homesick or not playing as much - they have other reasons too. It just gives them that window of opportunity.

    "We have players that would love to transfer, I'm sure, if they could be immediately eligible. So if they looked at that aspect and said, 'Could I go over here right now and be eligible?' and they love Coach Dantonio, they would probably still decide to transfer.

    "There are so many different reasons for people to look at the thing and say, 'Do I need a fresh start?' You may see players transferring down to a lesser football team because they want an opportunity to play.

    "From Michigan State's standpoint, we are going to try to be above board in how we handle things and try to do it with integrity. But the NCAA has also created that situation to where you are not even using your (85 scholarship) numbers. The question would be: If you can get 'Joey,' who has played for a year and been in college for a year and has four or five years left, then why recruit 'Jimmy' if he's better, if you already know 'Joe'?"

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