CHICAGO — The short answer is: Of course they are.
Wouldn’t you? Recruiting is a numbers game, a results game, a popularity game, a con game, a public relations game. But most of all, it’s a dirty game, one played above reproach and below the belt, then, now, and always.
A game in which the three most important letters in the equation are the same as the least important.
So, yes, Penn State, people — Big Ten people, Notre Dame people, MAC people, Big West people, all people — are using your past against you, right or wrong. Yes, other coaches are stretching the truth to make you look bad. Or seedy. Or both.
Suck it up.
Strange things happen sometimes when too many coaches and too many media members get stuck in the same hotel for too long. Tuesday morning went down that rabbit hole early at Big Ten Media Days when reporters asked Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio what they thought of Penn State coach James Franklin — who wasn’t present to defend himself or clarify his remarks — allegedly accusing them of playing dirty pool.
The line of questions stemmed from an interview Franklin conducted with the Reading (Pa.) Eagle newspaper earlier this summer, one in which the Lions football coach was asked about the pros and cons of sharing the Big Ten East division with three of the baddest beasts in college football right now in the Buckeyes, Spartans and Michigan Wolverines.
“Like most things in life, there are some real positives about it,” Franklin told the Eagle. “We’re able to tell kids they’re going to compete against the very highest level week-in and week-out. What makes it tricky (is), they’re not having to deal with some of the things we’re dealing with and working through, which magnifies it.
“Those programs, as well as others, know that and use that against us. We have that conversation with every single prospect. We don’t usually initiate it, but it’s coming from somewhere.”
No, no, no, coach. It’s coming from everywhere.
Now let’s be clear on something, too: Jerry Sandusky is not on James Franklin. Nor, for that matter, are the old NCAA grievances that current Lions officials claim are still being slung back at them by assailants known and unknown.
But that doesn’t mean that Meyer and Dantonio should be badgered — which they both were — into denials, which they both offered. Or into apologies.
Or that Franklin and his boss, athletic director Sandy Barbour, are somehow pitiable martyrs for the sins of their Nittany forefathers.
Franklin was hired in January 2014 and Barbour the next July. They didn’t put the rats on this particular ship, nor were they the ones who allowed the stench to linger.
Yet they are the pair who signed on try to sail it to smoother waters, knowing full well the stains inherent from stem to stern. They have nothing to be ashamed of working for a university that, conversely, has so, so, so, so much.
They’re also smart enough to realize when you represent an institution under investigation for the employ of a convicted child molester and decades of willful ignorance in the wake of unconscionable abuse, the closet is going to be talked about. Repeatedly. Universally. Even if you had nothing to do with the skeletons lingering inside.
“What I was particularly referring to was making stuff up,” Barbour told the Wilkes-Barre (Pa.) Times-Leader. “Things that are not factual and using those. That’s a fact that that is happening. We’re hearing it from prospective student-athletes. And we’ll handle it.”
This, too, shall pass.
Like a kidney stone.
“It’s (about) honor,” Barbour continued. “And I would hope, particularly within our own conference, that we would be honorable.”
It’s not happening. Not now. Not ever.
Rankings, yes. Strategy, yes. Pandering, absolutely.
But honor? There’s no honor in recruiting.
Only winners and losers, millionaires chasing serfs, the old courting the young, the most necessary of evils, a world in which egos — and reputations — are shredded like so many classified documents.
It’s not personal. Done well, by the highest practitioners of the art, it’s a messy, messy business. And if you don’t like how the sausage gets made, go vegan.
You can reach Sean Keeler via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @seankeeler