Illini head coach Beckman addresses possible Penn State transfers

CHICAGO – When Illinois head coach Tim Beckman took the podium Thursday at Big Ten Football Media Day, he didn’t waste any time addressing Illinois’ alleged recruiting of Penn State’s players in State College, Pa.

“I know it’s going to be asked, so I’m going to attack it because I’m a proactive guy,” Beckman said. “We were in State College, but we did not go onto their campus.”

In wake of the sanctions imposed by the NCAA and the Big Ten, all Penn State players are able to change schools without penalty or limitations on transferring within the conference.

“It’s like NFL free agency without the rules,” said Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien. “They can do what they want as long as they tell our compliance office that they’re contacting these kids, and it is what it is.”

Reports surfaced Wednesday that a contingent of Illinois coaches was spotted leaving an airport on the way to meet with Penn State players. Beckman confirmed eight coaches went to State College but said they set up shop at nearby restaurants rather than on Penn State’s campus.

“I did not want our coaching staff on their campus,” Beckman said. “I told the staff before, we’re going so that the players can come to us and not us go to them. I don’t know if that makes it right or not, but that’s what I said as a head football coach.”

Beckman said the coaches were sent to Penn State in response to a player who reached out to them with interest in transferring to Illinois, and then the staff made themselves available to “a few” other players interested in making the move to Champaign.

To comply with NCAA rules, Illinois sent Penn State a list of players the Illini are in discussions with, but Beckman declined to comment on whom they are or how many names are on the list.

Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas said Illinois is operating within NCAA and Big Ten protocols and that he’s comfortable with how the Illini coaches have handled the situation.

“The focus is on us because it was recognized that we were there,” Thomas said. “But I can tell you we weren’t the only ones that were.”

He added that he didn’t necessarily view the Illinois contingent in State College as recruiters.

“When I think of that, it’s going in and doing a hard sell and being really aggressive,” Thomas said. “That wasn’t the case here.”

Penn State’s players aren’t only on Beckman and the Illini’s radar. USC’s Lane Kiffin is reportedly close to luring away Penn State’s star running back Silas Redd, and O’Brien told ESPN on Wednesday that there were numerous coaches on Penn State’s campus recruiting his players.

“I have no idea what schools were on our campus, nor do I care,” O’Brien said. As of Thursday, O’Brien said he doesn’t know if any players plan to transfer.

As far as the rest of the Big Ten coaches are concerned, all but Purdue’s Danny Hope said they would not actively seek out players from Penn State’s roster, but most admitted they would look at a player if he expressed interest in their team.

“The NCAA has established the rules and the guidelines,” Hope said. “As long as we’re compliant, we’re going to exercise every opportunity we can to enhance our football team.”

Some coaches were more adamantly opposed to the idea than others, most notably Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer.

“I have a problem with that,” Meyer said. “A young man has the right to play wherever he wants to play. … However, when he’s part of a team, you’re getting into a situation that I’m not very familiar with and we’re not going to get very familiar with it.”

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said he is concerned the situation could cause be damaging to the health of the league and its players. Delany met with the conference coaches Thursday morning and laid out the ground rules for the transfer protocols.

“We’ve tried to articulate how this could be damaging,” he said. “If a player is interested in talking to you or has an interest in your university, so be it. … But there comes a point of reasonableness, where if a person says, ‘I’m not interested, I don’t want to talk to you,’ move on.”