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Penn State's program is far from dead

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Penn State's program is far from dead

From Comcast SportsNet
The mere suggestion that NCAA sanctions against Penn State were worse than receiving the so-called death penalty were enough to make first-year coach Bill O'Brien raise his voice a notch. "No. We are playing football," O'Brien said forcefully during a conference call Tuesday with reporters. "We open our season on Sept. 1 in front of 108,000 strong against Ohio University. We're playing football and we're on TV. We get to practice. We get to get better as football players, and get to do it for Penn State." The NCAA crushed Penn State with scholarship reductions that could be felt for much of this decade and a bowl ban over the next four seasons. But it stopped short of handing down the death penalty, forcing the school to shut down the program the way it did to SMU in 1987. It is fair to wonder if Penn State football will ever be what it once was: a perennial Top 20 program that routinely contended for Big Ten championships and occasionally national titles. But to suggest that Penn State's punishment is comparable to or worse than SMU's is to forget just how difficult it has been for the Mustangs to recover. And make no mistake, 25 years later, SMU football is still recovering. "Until you've completely killed a program, it's hard to understand all that it takes for a program to operate on a day-to-day basis," said Andy Bergfeld, a receiver on SMU's 1989 team, its first after the death penalty. "The fact that SMU had to start completely from scratch -- they went from playing in Texas Stadium to converting their 1920 home stadium into a place we could play our home games -- it was very, very difficult. I think Penn State, when all the dust settles, will have a lot better chance to recover more quickly." As difficult as it will be for Penn State to deal with having no more than 65 scholarship players for four years (their opponents will have 85) it's a whole lot better than having no scholarship players at all. SMU's program was shuttered by the NCAA for one year because it was a repeat offender found to be systematically paying players and that high-ranking university officials knew about the payments. The NCAA allowed SMU players to transfer without restrictions after the punishment was handed down, just as it is doing with Penn State players. With no chance of playing until at least 1988, just about all of the Mustangs left. "It was pretty much a no-brainer for anybody on that football team," said Mitchell Glieber, who was a redshirt freshman on SMU's 1986 team, the last one before the sanctions. "If you had aspirations of playing football beyond college there was no choice." As of Tuesday, Penn State has not lost a current player. No doubt defections will come, and O'Brien has said that right now keeping his team together is his top priority. Glieber felt that professional football was probably not in his future back in the late 80s, so he stuck it out at SMU, along with a handful of other players, mostly former walk-ons. SMU canceled the 1988 season as well, though it was allowed to hire a coach -- former Green Bay Packers great and Cincinnati Bengals coach Forrest Gregg, an SMU alum, was brought in -- and the team began practicing. "The caliber of talent between the pre-death penalty and the post-death penalty were absolutely night and day," said Glieber, who is now the vice president of marketing for the Texas State Fair. "In the first few weeks of practice I was just in disbelief about the level of players we had out there." SMU also had scholarship limits placed on the program by the NCAA and the school had responded to the scandal by drastically raising the academic standards for athletes, Glieber said. Glieber looked at the team SMU was hoping to compete with Southwest Conference rivals such as Texas and Texas A&M and thought: "Can this group of guys stay healthy and continue to field a team week to week?" "It was pretty bleak looking to be honest with you." SMU, remarkably, won two games its first season back. But the program was a wreck. When the Southwest Conference broke up, many of the top programs from that league ended up in the Big 12. SMU was cast aside. It is not unreasonable to think that the Big Ten, with multimillion dollar television contracts to fulfill that require 12 teams, would not have held a spot for Penn State if it had been given the death penalty. Instead, the Big Ten will withhold Penn State's portion of the conference's shared bowl revenue while the Nittany Lions are ineligible for the postseason. That will cost Penn State about 13 million. But the Nittany Lions will still get to have their games shown on the Big Ten Network. And probably on ESPN and ABC. The spotlight will still be on Penn State football, and that could be a good thing. The day after the NCAA's hammer dropped on Penn State, O'Brien made the media rounds, answering questions about how he will go about trying to lead the Nittany Lions through the difficult times that lie ahead. Mostly, though, O'Brien was delivering the message that there are still plenty of reasons to play football at Penn State. The former New England offensive coordinator and Joe Paterno's replacement ticked off the reasons several times. -- A chance to get a great education; -- The ability to "play football on TV in front of 108,000 fans" at Beaver Stadium; -- To be able to play "six or seven bowl games a year right here in State College in front of great fans"; -- His staff's ability to develop players for the NFL. And he left off a couple of others. Most likely, fans will still come to Beaver Stadium. College football weekends are about more than the game. They are about reunions of friends and family, a chance to cook out on crisp autumn days. Those things won't change in Happy Valley. Also, while a four-year bowl ban sounds tough, think about it like this. An incoming freshman who redshirts for a year -- retaining four years of eligibility -- will be able to play for the blue and white in a bowl his senior season. O'Brien has already shown signs of being a stellar recruiter. He was putting together a class that recruiting analysts were high on before the sanctions. Analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports said that he thinks the first two years under the sanctions will be lean, but O'Brien can start selling recruits a future with bowl games and Big Ten titles by Year 3 and Penn State could be back on track in five years. "It's all about the optimism and the ability to sell the future to these kids," Lemming said. O'Brien said he found out exactly what the sanctions were at the same time as everyone else, when NCAA President Mark Emmert announced them at a news conference Monday morning. Before they came down, O'Brien said he told his bosses what he wanted: "Let us play football and let us be on TV." "At the end of the day that's what you want to do: play football in a fantastic, beautiful stadium and you want your fans that can't go to the game to watch you on TV." It sure beats not playing at all.

Talking points: David Pastrnak bust out of slump in OT win over Flames

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Talking points: David Pastrnak bust out of slump in OT win over Flames

GOLD STAR: David Pastrnak busted out of a mini-slump with a nice performance as he scored the B’s first goal of the game, and made a nice play picking up a loose puck off the side boards before curling to the net and beating David Rittich down low. Pastrnak finished with a team-high four shots on net, blocked a whopping three shots and generally played a committed, intense 18:38 of ice time after showing some quirks in his game over the last three or four weeks. Pastrnak still has just two goals in his last 12 games after Monday afternoon’s lamp-lighter, so the Bruins could use their 21-year-old right winger going on a scoring binge now that he’s broken through.

BLACK EYE: It was a pretty well-played game on both sides, so there aren’t a lot of easy, ready-made candidates, so Michael Frolik gets it by process of elimination. Frolik was stripped of the puck along the side boards by Patrice Bergeron, and that kicked a loose puck out to David Pastrnak for his successful scoring curl to the net. Frolik finished with a couple of shots on net, had a couple of giveaways in his 17:19 of ice time and wasn’t much of a factor for the Flames in a game where one mistake turned out to make a huge difference. All that being said, it was mostly a well-played game for both sides with Frolik’s early miscue playing a major role. 

TURNING POINT: Clearly it was about Tuukka Rask holding strong in the third period and overtime after he’d been just okay over the last week, and he did that with a good effort in the third period (12 saves) and a superhuman effort in overtime (five saves) when he stoned Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk prior to Brad Marchand’s game-winner. The overtime session was extremely impressive for Rask as he stood tall with a very important result on the line in terms of the defense/goaltending earning a good result after some subpar performances lately. Without Rask standing on his head, the Bruins don’t get the two points at the other end near the end of the overtime session. 

HONORABLE MENTION: With Pastrnak nailing down top honors after breaking his slump, Brad Marchand gets the honorable mention by “just” ripping home the game-winner in overtime on a breakaway. Marchand made his typical forehand-to-backhand maneuver and picked a spot on the five-hole through the leg pads of David Rittich, who was otherwise outstanding for the Flames in a tight game for Calgary. Marchand finished with the goal and a plus-2 rating, and finished with seven shot attempts in a whopping 21:38 of ice time. Both Marchand and Pastrnak had been pretty quiet as of late as the physical intensity has ramped up on them lately, but they responded well by powering the offense against Calgary.  

BY THE NUMBERS: 9 – With Monday afternoon’s OT game-winner, left winger Brad Marchand now stands second all-time behind Dit Clapper and Glen Murray for the most overtime winners in Bruins franchise history. 

QUOTE TO NOTE: “You just stay patient and hope that the puck hits you, and it did.” –a matter-of-fact Tuukka Rask to reporters in Calgary on the overtime session where Rask did more than that in stopping five shots prior to Brad Marchand’s overtime game-winner.  

Celtics notebook: In All-Star Game, LeBron James asserts his command

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Celtics notebook: In All-Star Game, LeBron James asserts his command

LOS ANGELES – With the all-star game a thing of the past now, those who participated in the game will get a couple days of rest before the NBA grind of a season starts back up.

Meanwhile, their teammates and the rest of the league will return after nearly a week without games, seemingly enough time to recharge and re-focus for the remainder of the season.

All-stars like Stephen Curry will try to maximize the next couple days which will serve as their all-star break.

“I think that’s kind of a double-edged sword of being an All-Star,” Curry said. “It’s an amazing accomplishment, an amazing honor, but if you’re thinking about it in the perspective of getting rest and really taking advantage of the full slate of All-Star break, it doesn’t really start for us until (after Sunday’s game).”

But it’s not just getting a chance to recharge physically, Curry said. 

“That’s a big part of it too,” Curry said. “Not even just your body, but get a refresh mentally to know that when you get back to practice on Wednesday that that’s when the real grind starts.” 

A ‘Horford-like’ all-star game

It wasn’t a big shot or a dunk or any other offensive play that decided the outcome in Team LeBron’s 148-145 all-star game win over Team Steph.

On the final play, it was a game decided by the little things such as a last-second double team or a clutch rebound or a “hockey assist,” the kind of plays that we often see made by Al Horford which made Sunday’s all-star game on some levels, have a Horford-like feel.

“Guys were looking for each other. It was good to see,” said Horford, playing in his fifth all-star game. “It was good basketball. You obviously have your one-on-one plays. But probably for the first time I’ve played in this game, I felt it was more of a game. So that was fun to see.”

Oh So Close …

If Team Steph had held on for the win over Team LeBron, there was a very good chance that Compton, Calif. native and USC alum DeMar DeRozan would have been the game’s MVP.

When told of this, DeRozan replied, “You just want to break my heart some more, huh?”

He added, “Hey, just being out there was a blessing, man, honestly. Just being able to be part of that. I’m just happy to be out there competing with them guys.”

However, being so close to home did make for a special weekend.

“I mean, it was a dream come true,” said DeRozan who had 21 points and six rebounds. “This is one of the moments that I’m going to forever live with. Being able to be a part of this, to come from where I come from and come out here and be a starter for an All-Star game in my hometown, it definitely was a dream come true.”

James takes pride in body, not proving he’s still a great player to youngsters

LeBron James remains a commanding figure in the NBA, showing no signs of slowing up even at a time when most players his age are slowing down.

And while an influx of young talent has certainly come into the league and made their mark, there’s no getting around the fact that James can still dominate games on several levels.

“What I take pride in is taking care of my body,” said James, who is 33 years old. “Taking care of my body. Making sure I’m available every night and continue to get better and better. I don’t really take it as a young guy, okay, I need to show him I’m still able to do this. I need to continue to show myself, you know, because every night I step on the floor I have to lead my guys or prove to myself that I’m still able to play at a high level. I feel great.”

Raptor’s Casey: Coaching vs Lowry, DeRozan “was tough”

Dwane Casey was happy to be the head coach of his first all-star game, but there was a definite downside to it: coaching against his best players, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.

With the new format, Casey was coaching Team LeBron while DeRozan and Lowry played for Team Steph.

“That was tough, that was tough,” Casey said. “You look out there and you’re yelling at guys to get up on them, to push them, and to play DeMar’s left-hand or right-hand, and push him left. All those things you fight as a coach.

Casey added, “Those are the things that you feel bad about, but, again, those two have carried us and pushed us, and taken us in the conversation of being one of the top teams in the league. I love both of them as sons, and I’m proud of them for where they came from, and they’ve made themselves into multi-time all-stars.”

For DeRozan, this was his third straight all-star selection and fourth overall, while Lowry made his fourth straight all-star appearance.