Tim Beckman of Illinois is one of three first-year head coaches in the Big Ten, but it didn’t take him long to get on the bad side of Nittany Nation when it was discovered he had sent coaches to State College to recruit Penn State players shortly after the NCAA assessed harsh sanctions against the football program.
It just so happens the Nittany Lions will begin Big Ten play, for the first time under head coach Bill O’Brien, on Saturday at Illinois.
So Beckman was asked if he had any regrets about going after Penn State players last July and causing ill feelings among a wide cross-section of fans, players such as Michael Mauti, and perhaps coaches (who have not complained publicly).
“This game is developed, I believe, for opportunity,” Beckman said at his weekly news conference. “When we had that opportunity to go out and ask young men if they were … to come to us and tell you that they would like an opportunity to speak to us. That’s what college football is about.
“I regret that it ended up being this talk-about but it did give a young man the opportunity to make his decision on what he wanted to do.”
Beckman did not identify the player. Offensive lineman Ryan Nowicki, a redshirt freshman who has Illinois roots, eventually transferred to play for the Fighting Illini.
Beckman said he was following “what the NCAA allowed us to do.” In announcing sanctions, the NCAA said coaches could visit Penn State players, who would be allowed to transfer without having to sit out a year.
Beckman said someone from his staff received a call before the sanctions came out from a Penn State player and that he pursued it. When eight members of his staff arrived in State College, he said he got word out to “them,” suggesting more than one player, “that we would be off-campus.
“If they’d like to, they could (contact us). If they didn’t like to, then we wouldn’t pursue them any further.”
Beckman said he spoke with O’Brien in Chicago but it wasn’t clear if the matter had been resolved in that conversation.
“I hope so,” Beckman said. “But this game is about the players and about playing on the field. I know they’ll be prepared and I believe that coach O’Brien does a great job … I know coach O’Brien does a great job getting his players prepared and ready. It’s going to be a 60-minute battle, no question.”
O’Brien was not available for comment. He will address the media Tuesday at his weekly teleconference.
Mauti, who was a vocal critic of coaches going after Penn State players, chose not to directly answer a question after Saturday’s win over Temple regarding how he felt about meeting Illinois. He was not among the list of players whom the football program is making available this week to speak with the media.
Asked how his team would match the anticipated intensity from Penn State, Beckman said it shouldn’t be a problem “because it’s a Big Ten football game.”