Urban Meyer was taken aback.
Did he or his coaching staff participate in “negative recruiting” against Penn State? Meaning, does Ohio State tell recruits that the continuing fallout of the Jerry Sandusky scandal will result in future NCAA sanctions?
Meyer didn’t seem to know what to say.
“That's the first time I've heard that," he said.
The question stemmed from comments Penn State head coach James Franklin made in an interview with the Reading Eagle that was published over the weekend.
Franklin is still in the process of dragging his program out of the shadow of the Sandusky scandal, which resulted in NCAA sanctions that reduced the number of scholarships and banned the Nittany Lions from bowl participation for multiple seasons.
That’s all done with now — the bowl ban lifted two seasons ago and Franklin telling reporters Monday that he’s back to a full allotment of 85 scholarships — but Franklin said his team is still short on seniors and the scandal’s effects still loom. Most notably, that’s coming in the form of new developments, new reports of who knew what and when during Joe Paterno’s decades-long tenure in State College.
In that interview, Franklin seemed to accuse Penn State’s Big Ten East Division rivals — Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State — of telling kids on the recruiting trail that more punishments are coming with every new development.
Here’s what he told the Reading Eagle:
“We're able to tell kids they're going to compete against the very highest level week in and week out,” Franklin said when asked what it’s like having those three powerhouse programs in the same division as Penn State. “What makes it tricky, 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.”
Elsewhere during the interview, he had this to say:
“The one thing that I can't predict is when there is going to be finality to everything. A month ago, I'm in Chicago at a wedding of one of my former players and the most recent things (from the Sandusky scandal) come up. I spend all Friday and Saturday on the phone talking to all of our players because other schools are contacting them and telling them the NCAA is going to get involved again and impose more sanctions.
“The people we're competing with — Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame — this is just not something they have to deal with. Although we want to move on, those other schools are not letting us move on.”
As Meyer said Tuesday, those sound like some pretty serious allegations.
“I'll address that with Coach Franklin if that is an issue," he said. "That's a pretty strong allegation that I've not heard yet. So that's not been presented to me until this moment. Absolutely not. We've got a great deal of respect for every school in our conference. And we don't worry about that stuff. I'm glad you told me that. If that's true, I'll address that."
Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio was asked the same question.
“From my standpoint, I have not said anything negative about Penn State. And hopefully our coaches have not as well,” Dantonio said. “So I was surprised to read that. I don't know what happens out there on the road completely. But it's not our MO. And that's not how we do business.”
Franklin tried to clear up his comments after the story picked up steam, telling Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman that he didn’t accuse those schools of any negative recruiting.
Additionally, Franklin received his own allegation on Tuesday morning.
Who knows what’s actually going on between coaches and high school prospects. Certainly coaches taking swipes at each other is nothing new, nor is the win-at-all-costs arena of college football recruiting.
Still, it added some drama to the second day of Big Ten Media Days.