There was little question that the massive sanctions handed down to Penn State in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal would have a profound effect on the program's future. The loss of 20 scholarships per season for four years is enough to cripple almost any team, with a bowl ban just adding another crushing blow.
Combined, those two factors have created a scenario that might be even worse than the loss of scholarships and bowls themselves: Penn State may struggle to find anyone willing to take the remaining scholarships that they held on to.
As reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer and other sources, the prized members of Penn State's recruiting class of 2013 -- prospects who would be college seniors in 2017 -- have almost universally softened their commitments to the school and program. While plenty remained loyal to the school throughout the Sandusky trial and subsequent Freeh Report, the NCAA's decision to essentially cripple the program without killing it outright appears to have been a step too far for some top recruits.
Most prominent among those prospects is Christian Hackenberg, a Fort Union (Va.) Academy superstar who is universally considered one of — if not the — top quarterback prospect in the Class of 2013. Hackenberg had long been considered a solid Penn State commit, but immediately appeared to back off that commitment after participating at the Elite 11 quarterback camp, where he starred. According to Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell, Hackenberg is now considering Auburn and South Carolina. More ominously for Penn State, the passer told Farrell that he "wants to play in a bowl game."
That in itself would rule Penn State out.
The loss of Hackenberg could then greatly diminish the school's chance of holding on to two other prized prospective recruits, with both the top tight end and one of America's top offensive linemen among them.
Publicly, Camp Hill (Pa.) High tight end Adam Breneman remains committed to the Nittany Lions, but with months remaining before Signing Day few would be surprised if he moved away from that pledge. Belle Vernon (Pa.) High offensive lineman Dorian Johnson was much less open about a future with the Nittany Lions, offering only the following tweet, as first noticed by the Inquirer:
"If you plan on calling me/texting me about this . . . STILL NO COMMENT."
While a pair of lower-profile commitments reaffirmed their pledge to the school shortly after Monday's announcement, two other high-profile recruits withdrew their commitment and rapidly narrowed in on other schools, with highly rated defensive lineman Greg Webb quickly pledging his future to North Carolina.
As time moves forward, it's likely that the current flux enveloping the Penn State recruiting class will solidify into something more concrete. Unfortunately for Nittany Lions fans, however, the solidity and finality that many craved in order to put the Sandusky debacle behind the program may be the very engine that further undermines any chance of a return to prosperous results on the field at any time in the near future.