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Penn State Football: Nothing Wrong With Franklin Bringing Along Vanderbilt Recruits

by on January 21, 2014 11:30 AM

Recruiting is, at it's very core a messy business.

The intentions of the system are pure. To sell a recruit on a football program and the university at large. If anything it's a way to see the best of what a school has to offer. A recruit has to pick a school and recruiting is in many ways the best means of making that decision.

It's not all that different than the process used to bring in top notch students to a research program or the stacks of pamphlets sent out to high school students within 100 miles of any given university.

But the problem with recruiting is that there are no set rules. Sure, there are NCAA regulations that prevent people from paying athletes, there are certain periods when you can't contact a prospect, how often a recruit can visit, when he can sign a letter of intent. Those rules are there to supposedly level the playing field, outside of that what is "ethical" within the world of recruiting is a much less exact science.

And those kind of undefined ethics are giving Penn State fans fits over the past few days as new head coach James Franklin has brought in a total of five recruits that were previously committed to him while at Vanderbilt.

The most recent so-called pillage came on Monday night as three-star quarterback commit Trace McSorley and three-star defensive back Grant Haley both flipped their commitments to Penn State. They are the fourth and fifth prospects to do so. Penn State also has reportedly lost Donte Raymond a three-star outside linebacker to Delaware, a perhaps not so coincidental occurrence to Penn State's sudden expansion of the current recruiting class. (Carefrontations are nothing new at Penn State though.)

At face value there is nothing inherently wrong with what Franklin did. The thought that athletes will stay committed to a university no matter what, even through a coaching change, because they're all "men of their word" bound to the vision of a school is an idealistic notion. (Although even Franklin has tossed a similar phrase around). Prospects will go to a school for an education and they will go to a school for a coach. In a perfect world they go to a school where they can get both, but in many cases they are committed to a coach. 

“I think the biggest thing is when a kid commits to Vanderbilt, I go into great detail and make sure they understand what they’re doing – that they understand ‘commitment’ and ‘what commitment means.’ That I’d say if five other schools come in and offer you, would you change your mind?" Franklin once said.

"We make sure everybody is on the same page: the kid, the parents, and the high school coach. We explain it in real detail. I would just rather a kid not commit to us than commit and not be completely sure what he’s going to do. When you lose a kid, it hurts your heart. You feel bad, like all college coaches do, because you feel like your institution is the best possible place for that kid. So when you lose them, it hurts."

Do the above quotes mean Franklin doesn't stick to his own code? Well not really. If a player is committed to a university for something that is no longer there, than that player is fair game. The quote focuses on the importance of commitment during a time of stability, not when a program is changing. Students can change schools for any reason, even superficial ones. Athletes are seen as traitors when they want to stick with a coach.

Ultimately, Franklin hasn't taken players with years under their belt at Vanderbilt away from the program. He has "taken" five players who wanted to be a part of what he was building at Vanderbilt but is now in jeopardy. They wanted to follow that coach to his new job because they had built a relationship with him. As Bill O'Brien once said, "Recruiting is all about fit." And these kids fit with Franklin.

Whether chasing football aspirations over everything else is right or wrong is secondary to the fact that Franklin can't actually make a recruit leave if the recruit doesn't want to. Franklin can't actually steal anybody from anywhere. For a span of a few days, a handful of high school kids decided that they wanted to follow James Franklin to his new job and they had to leave Vanderbilt to do it. That's all.

Franklin won't be taking kids from Vanderbilt for the next three years or even the next three months. The moralizing of a recruit's decision to change schools is at best an exercise in overthinking.

In the end, Penn State fans are getting what they asked for. A coach that is high in energy, not afraid of back down from anyone and is going to do what he can to take Penn State to the "next level." This round of recruiting might make some fans feel uncomfortable, but it will be over soon. The next few rounds should be nothing but entertaining to watch unfold.

As  Clay Travis pointed out.

"Franklin's decision to leave Vandy for Penn State was strategic -- in the SEC he had to compete against the top college football programs in the country for the best recruits. At Penn State, he'll have to just beat Urban Meyer. The entire northeast -- from Northern Virginia to New England, will be his region. Toss in his home state of Pennsylvania, which he plans to dominate, and battle Urban Meyer in Ohio and you're talking about Franklin and Meyer going head-to-head above the Mason-Dixon line for all of the top players."

So it's recruiting to win championships. That's what fans wanted. Right?

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Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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