One by one on Tuesday afternoon, Penn State football players unexpectedly learned their program would suffer fewer punishments through the sanctions than originally expected.
Coach Bill O’Brien said soon after the announcement was made that he hadn’t yet addressed his team, noting his players were mostly all in class at the time.
But, that didn’t stop many of them from hearing about it prior to the 2:45 team meeting.
"I think someone said it on Twitter and, like everything nowadays, it more [spread] through social media,” running back Akeel Lynch said. “But, it got through Twitter and a lot of guys were retweeting what the NCAA said. Coach O'Brien had a meeting to talk about it, and then we got back to business as usual.”
After undergoing the first 14 months of what was expected to be a four-year period of decreasing scholarships, the Penn State football program collectively learned Tuesday that the amount would be back on the increase beginning next year.
Several players who were available on conference calls Wednesday stressed the importance of remaining focused on the current season. However, they also expressed excitement toward the NCAA’s decision to lessen the penalties — thanks to what NCAA representatives referred to as “positive action” from the university.
Junior kicker Sam Ficken said the news, to a certain degree, reinforces the bond formed among many players who made the decision to remain at Penn State after the sanctions were originally announced. They could have gone elsewhere without penalty.
“We did stick it out,” Ficken said. “That’s a testament to the courage of this team and how we all fought through it. We’re coming out as better players and better people.”
As for O’Brien’s message to the team? “Win the day,” Ficken said players were told, just as they have been all season.
Tuesday, O’Brien had already set the tone, saying, “Today is definitely more about the future,” and it will be important for the Nittany Lions to maintain that mindset as they head into the thick of their Big Ten schedule. After the Lions’ (3-1) bye week, they will travel to Indiana next weekend to begin conference play.
Both Ficken and Lynch said they’ve tried not to focus on whether future modifications may be made to the sanctions — including the potential for the removal of the postseason ban.
But the hope will likely remain for most players moving forward, albeit to a lesser degree, at least outwardly, than with several vocal lettermen.
“There’s a thought that the sanctions might have been reduced, so you’re always hoping for that,” Ficken said. “But you’re not really [focusing] on that too much. You’re just going through your daily routine. No matter if the sanctions get lifted or what-not, we’re not going to practice any differently.”
Even if players were to spend much time analyzing the modified sanctions, they’d likely have equally as hard of a time predicting the future as the rest of the college football world.
Lynch said, “We obviously don’t know what’s going on with it,” in regard to the Penn State’s sanction future, and Ficken said he’s glad to only have to focus on kicking the ball on Saturdays.
“To be honest with you, the players are not really looking into it too much. That’s more the administration and coach thing,” Ficken said. “So, it’s good news, but we’re players here. We’re not interpreters of what’s happening.”
Lynch was also asked if he felt the Lions’ program had nullified the theory of Penn State representing a “Football Culture,” leading the well-spoken redshirt freshman to explain the program’s foundation as simply as possible.
"We play football and we graduate our players,” Lynch said. “We're just doing what the NCAA asks us to do and we're just going to continue to do that."
John Stuetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (814) 865-1828. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnStuetz_PSU