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April 25, 2013For obvious reasons, Wednesday's revelation that Penn State quarterback Steven Bench would seek a transfer after the spring semester came as big news in its implications for the Nittany Lions' 2013 season.
Simply, with one major decision, the Nittany Lions now have only two potential starting quarterbacks on the roster.
For the next 59 days, until the arrival of five-star quarterback prospect Christian Hackenberg, Penn State's first-team reps in informal workouts will belong to juco transfer Tyler Ferguson. Then, for the 35 days after that leading into preseason camp, the Nittany Lions' wideouts, tight ends and running backs can start to develop some chemistry with both Hackenberg and Ferguson. The pressure of a much-hyped quarterback battle for not only the quarterbacks themselves, but also, their teammates, has been alleviated. Players and coaches know where they stand as individuals and as a team heading into the summer months.
This is of no small consequence.
That said, regardless of what the expectations were from a fan base and media that had been told Bench and Ferguson were neck and neck throughout the spring, the reality is that, in the mind of head coach Bill O'Brien, Bench was the team's third-string quarterback before Hackenberg had even stepped on campus. While depth will be of some concern without him, if the Nittany Lions find themselves in a position where the third-stringer is starting games in 2013, they're already in big, big trouble.
Which of course, leads to the sharper focus revealed Wednesday on the contrasts between the past, present and future of the program.
Having been informed by O'Brien that Ferguson and Hackenberg would be receiving the first and second-team reps at the start of preseason practice in August, Bench and his family made an informed decision about his future in college football. Rather than entering the summer months working toward the unknown, Bench now has an opportunity to continue his career in a program that will be a better fit.
A tough situation for all of the concerned parties, but, ultimately, one that is refreshingly resolute for all sides.
No prolonged battles, no pesky in-fighting or choosing of sides within the team or coaching staff. Simply, a decision that, whether it works in Penn State's favor or not, allows everyone involved to move forward.
The second and, somewhat more fascinating point to me from Wednesday's news, was the manner in which it traveled.
Word began to trickle out early Wednesday afternoon that Bench was indeed going to transfer. With a team meeting scheduled just hours later, teammates would be informed of Bench's decision, among other things. Rather than playing dumb with the news - potentially bad, depending on how you look at it - Penn State was out in front of the story and ready to go with not only the news itself, but also a reaction quote from O'Brien.
This is not rocket science, but further exhibits O'Brien's media savvy.
By being prepared, O'Brien avoided the mass media confusion that sometimes can arise in the heat of a story like this, and, more important for Penn State, he controlled the angle from which it was portrayed. Though Bench and his father, Steve, were, and are, certainly entitled to telling their side of the story, there was a mutual respect shown by both sides to the media that allows everyone to avoid what could be construed as a messy situation.
Though Bench is not the first Penn State football player to experience the disappointment of learning he wouldn't achieve his goal, he is the latest and most public. Rest assured, in the coming weeks, months and years, he will not be the last.
As O'Brien and the Nittany Lions continue to attempt to navigate the NCAA's unprecedented sanctions, some players will continue to be disappointed to learn of their roles at Penn State and will decide to move on. They'll know, though, and for that reason alone, fans can expect less hand-wringing and indecision as the program moves forward.
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