July 23 was the day the NCAA issued heavy sanctions against Penn State. On July 25, Illinois sent coaches to State College.
Illinois head coach Tim Beckman confirmed at Big Ten Media Day in July that part of his staff made the trip to Happy Valley just days after the sanctions were levied, though he noted no Illini coaches stepped on campus.
Offensive lineman Ryan Nowicki transferred to Illinois from Penn State at the end of July. Of the nine players to leave Penn State, Nowicki was the only one to remain in the Big Ten.
With Penn State traveling to Champaign this Saturday to take on the fighting Illini — currently 2-2 — Beckman faced questions about what happened two months ago at his press conference Monday.
“Again, this game was developed for opportunity, I believe,” Beckman said. “And we had that opportunity to go out and ask him. And if they come to us and say that they would like an opportunity to speak to us…I mean, I think that’s what college football is about. I regret that it ended up being this much and it’s still talked about. But it did give a young man the opportunity to make his decision on what he wanted to do.”
Beckman — who is in his first year at Illinois after spending the last three seasons at Toledo — said he and coach Bill O’Brien spoke about Illinois recruiting Penn State players at media day, and added everything his staff did was within the guidelines set up by the NCAA.
Nittany Lion players were allowed to transfer anywhere without penalty after the sanctions. However, Nowicki has yet to see the field this season.
“I stated what we believed the NCAA allowed us to do. We were contacted previously, prior to any of this stuff happened,” Beckman said. “We recruited a young man…and we pursued it. We did not go and chase him. We told them that we would be off campus and if they liked to, they could. If they didn’t like to, then we wouldn’t pursue them any further.”
Beckman wasn’t the only one talking about Illinois sending coaches to State College at media day. Senior linebacker Michael Mauti was vocal about his displeasure of coaches from other schools visiting to recruit he and his teammates.
“There have been coaches hounding our players, man,” Mauti said in July. “To me, it doesn’t seem right. Even some coaches from this conference.”
After Penn State’s win against Temple on Saturday, Mauti was asked if the Illinois game means more to him, but skirted the question.
“I got to stay away from that one,” Mauti said. “Maybe later in the week, we’ll get back to that if they let me comment.”
Mauti is currently not in line to be made available to the media this week.
While Mauti may not be able to share his feelings again before the game, Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase said the Lions will have extra motivation just because it’s both teams’ Big Ten openers.
“I think they’d be fired up regardless,” Scheelhaase said. “I think they’d be fired up for the start of conference play.”
Collegian staff writer John Stuetz contributed to this report.