The shame of a child sexual-abuse scandal and uncertainty over who will be hired as the next head football coach has many high school players who committed to Penn State's 2012 freshman class considering other options.
Since the indictment of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and the firing of head coach Joe Paterno on Nov. 9, two recruits - offensive lineman Joey O'Connor of Windsor, Colo., and tight end J.P. Holtz of Pittsburgh - have de-committed, and more could follow depending on the Nittany Lions' coaching hire.
ESPN.com reported this week that defensive tackle Tommy Schutt of Glen Ellyn, Ill., the Lions' highest-ranked commitment, will visit Ohio State this weekend.
St. Joseph's Prep quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg has kept his thoughts to himself. He was not available for comment Thursday, but a person with knowledge of the situation told The Inquirer that Mornhinweg was planning visits to a few other schools after the holidays while sticking with Penn State for now.
The Nittany Lions once had 17 oral commitments for 2012, but that number has fallen to 14. The first player to de-commit, offensive tackle J.J. Denman of Pennsbury High School, did so on Oct. 16, nearly three weeks before the release of the indictment charging Sandusky with sexual assault of young boys.
Of the remaining players, some will visit other schools, while others will consider their options or hold tight until they see who the next head coach will be.
"That's your future," Bob Lichtenfels, the East regional recruiting manager for Scout.com, said Thursday. "You can't stand by and not have a backup plan. If somebody comes in that they totally don't know, they may not get along, or they just may not fit. They have to have another plan in place."
Lichtenfels said he's not surprised Schutt will be visiting Ohio State because its new head coach, Urban Meyer, winner of two national championships at Florida, "is the hot name right now, the 'in' thing. Everything he's done speaks for itself."
Interim Penn State head coach Tom Bradley traveled for most of last week trying to convince recruits to stay, and Lichtenfels said he did "a tremendous job based on all the kids and parents that I've talked to.
"He's respectful to Joe Paterno and the university, but he has a plan, a good understanding of what he wants to do," he added. "He's been as forthright as he can be with the parents, and I haven't heard of a single complaint from a parent."
If Bradley is hired as permanent head coach, Lichtenfels doesn't see more than one or two recruits, if any, depart. However, if someone from outside the Penn State family gets the job, "that's when it gets interesting," he said.
In other developments Thursday:
Bradley, in Dallas Thursday for a news conference to publicize the Lions' game against Houston in the TicketCity Bowl, said he felt he would get a chance next week to be interviewed by the committee appointed to hire a permanent head coach, according to a report by the Associated Press.
Acting athletic director Dave Joyner, chairman of the committee, said the panel is looking at a 30-day window to find a replacement for Paterno. He added he does not have a list of finalists at this point.
As for an interview with Bradley, Joyner said: "We're going to work it out on his schedule."
The Big Ten presidents announced the conference will launch its own investigation of the allegations against Sandusky to see if procedures in place to maintain institutional control of the university's athletic program were threatened or ignored. They said sanctions could be imposed.
The Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors said the original findings of the grand jury charging Sandusky with molesting young boys proves there is "sufficient information to raise significant concerns" about the university's institutional control over athletics.
The council said it will request that the Big Ten's legal counsel be allowed to participate in investigations that are conducted by Penn State and the NCAA, and reserves the right "to impose sanctions, corrective, or other disciplinary measures in the event that adverse findings are made."
A person close to Paterno, who will turn 85 on Dec. 21, said Thursday the coach is "fine" and making progress as he undergoes treatment for lung cancer.
The person, who asked not to be identified, also said an Internet report that Paterno's health was declining was "erroneous."
That report, by SportsbyBrooks, quoted an athletic department source as saying Paterno's cancer was "worse than the family has let on" and that he is "much closer to dying soon than the public is aware."