Thursday, December 1, 2011

False Assumptions

How does PSU signee Reed Linaker feel about The Scandal? Perhaps you should try asking him.

One thing that's kind of interesting to me: everyone wants to know how The Scandal impacts Penn State hockey. As of today, "everyone" now includes New York Times blogger Paul Caponigri, a former Ohio State player. I suppose part of this is because it's a new program, and its trajectory now, more than anything, will determine whether PSU ultimately has good, bad or mediocre hockey teams. Maybe I'm just more plugged in to hockey and more aware of discussions such as these. Still, I find it strange that nobody's asking this question about Penn State basketball, volleyball or wrestling, especially when Caponigri's simple-minded conclusion could be applied to any sport:
For example, let’s say I am 19 years old and being recruited by Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan State. The process began last summer, and I have built solid relationships with the coaching staffs and have a tough decision to make. In my mind, the decision has just gotten a little simpler. I have two other great options and would begin to put all of my energy toward that decision.
There are a lot of flaws with this. The biggest, obviously, is that The Scandal had almost nothing to do with the hockey programs. As I've mentioned, the only way in which it definitively touches hockey is due to the fact that the former athletic director, Tim Curley, is involved. And that's an extraordinarily weak connection. People, for the most part, aren't stupid and understand this.

I'll grant Caponigri his assertion that Wisconsin and Michigan State are great programs, and I suppose a general desire to stay a million miles away from that whole thing could favor a great program over Penn State. However, another flaw is that PSU's recruits weren't making that decision most of the time. While some did have "interest" (notably, not the same as a scholarship offer, just ask Reed Linaker and/or Wisconsin) from major programs, for many the choice was something like "PSU, mid-level ECAC, Atlantic Hockey." And with all due respect to the many people and programs I like in the latter two categories, that's an easy choice, either before or after The Scandal.

A couple recruits (Luke Juha, Clarkson and Matt Skoff, Ohio State) were decommits from other Division I programs, but it's probably safe to say that they wouldn't be PSU-bound had it not been for specific circumstances at their previous schools. As a new program, Penn State has yet to go into a head-on equal-footing battle with the North Dakotas, Boston Colleges and Michigans of the world. The fact is, you can sell "Pegula Ice Arena, great coaches, be on the ground floor of something special" all you want, but you're still at a disadvantage to schools that have been pumping out national championships and NHL players for decades.

Obviously, we all hope and expect that to change, but it's unrealistic to think that it will before PSU is a fully-functioning DI program playing out of a shiny, new arena. Those who have committed now are true believers, but for most, seeing is believing. My fear is that people will observe these natural hurdles and falsely attribute them to false causes.

Of course, this is all conjecture - both from Caponigri and myself. So let's ask some actual PSU recruits. I'm just a blogger working out of my mother's basement, but you'd think the New York Times could do better. Especially when it's already out there on the internet. First, Linaker:
"It’s a crappy situation. It’s kind of scary, too, but that’s a totally different program. Coach [Guy Gadowsky] had reiterated that wouldn’t be happening with the hockey program. As bad as it is it sucks to see a legend like that [Joe Paterno] lose his legacy that way because he’s done a lot for that program, a lot for that school and a lot just for college football in general. It kind of sucks to see it end that way."
Women's signee Emily Laurenzi:
"It didn't really affect me at all. I heard a lot about it, but people that asked me stuff, I didn't really know the answers, so I just didn't listen to what other people were saying about it."
Zach Saar, who committed after the scandal broke:
"It’s a question a lot of people are asking - why go there with everything going on? The reality is they are a couple bad apples on a campus of 45,000 people. The campus and school will be back on (its) feet. If anything, the students are going to love coming to hockey games because the football program has a bit of a bad rap right now."
Amazingly, the 18-20 year olds seem to have a more rational approach to things than many in the hack parade out there. As Caponigri notes, Terry Pegula was quoted by TSN as having "heard that some of our recruits were maybe wavering a bit." While I don't doubt that someone, somewhere had a moment of hesitation, I also don't doubt that Pegula was looking for a point of entry or a justification for his little PR stunt. Andrew Dzurita from Lions 247 surveyed each men's commit in the aftermath of The Scandal and found no issues, and sure enough, every known men's commit signed a letter of intent (it's impossible to definitively say the same on the women's side due to sparse information, but there were no issues with the six commits known before the signing press release).

Even if Caponigri's right (and he isn't), let's not ignore the Guy Gadowsky factor. Just as a reminder, he coached at Princeton and Alaska before PSU. You don't think he's familiar with uphill battles in recruiting and with a track record of success in said battles? On a smaller scale, Josh Brandwene has the same type of record in building also-ran ACHA programs like Delaware into national contenders - and he did that despite the Icers, far and away the dominant program at the time, living in his backyard.

The simple reality of the situation is this: The Scandal will eventually blow over, just like every other scandal in history. Things will never be worse for Penn State than they are right now. I feel confident saying that in spite of whatever details come out of the trials of Jerry Sandusky, Tim Curley or Gary Schultz because the general public has already subscribed to the worst-case narrative, the one where several school officials covered for a former colleague raping numerous children in PSU facilities. That's not exactly what happened, but it's the story most took with them as the story died down from its peak and people started writing their "what does this all mean" pieces. The trials won't do anything to exacerbate things from that point.

Penn State, and Penn State hockey, has already survived the worst of things with almost zero impact (I only threw in "almost" as acknowledgement that I'm not aware of every single conversation with players PSU pursued). Recruiting next year will be easier than this year, and recruiting the following year will be easier still. While I do appreciate the "concern" of Caponigri and everyone else out there dying to see PSU hockey fail, their sentiments are best applied elsewhere.


  1. Outstanding post. Extremely well written.

  2. Good post except for once again, the unnecessary and gratuitous shot at Terry Pegula. If you have such a clear distaste for the man, perhaps you need to rename your blog.

  3. Both: Thank you!

    Anonymous: "Once again?" I'm missing these apparently repeated "unnecessary and gratuitous" shots of which you speak. The Three Stars post from Monday was the first time I recall ever saying anything negative about him, and I agonized over whether to do so, because anything negative about him is obviously a minority opinion. Ultimately, I decided that I'd rather quit than censor myself.

    I disagree that it was "unnecessary and gratuitous." What was unnecessary and gratuitous was Pegula's interview with TSN. He had already reaffirmed the donation - his statement doing so was all the situation required. Everything after that was public relations, and it came off as rather transparent to me considering that he's not exactly trumpeting his relationship to Tom Corbett at the moment and tried to hide the fact that he employs a Second Mile board member. It seems to me like everyone shut down their critical thinking processor with respect to Terry Pegula because he chipped off a donation. To a large extent, that's what PSU leadership has done, and I believe it will be to their detriment.

    No, I don't particularly like the guy, I'll be honest about that. But at the same time, there's no such thing as a human being who is 100% good or 100% evil. I can hate how Terry Pegula made his money, hate his political maneuvering, hate how he may be using the university, but still be appreciative of his building an ice arena.