Big Ten: Nittany Lions, Buckeyes can win division, trophy
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Even though Penn State and Ohio State are banned from playing in the Big Ten title game or a bowl as part of NCAA sanctions, both are still eligible to win the conference's Leaders Division and receive a trophy this season.
The Big Ten office confirmed to The Associated Press on Wednesday that the Nittany Lions (0-1) and 14th-ranked Buckeyes (1-0) could still be officially recognized as division champs. Neither can play in the Big Ten title game, however, so second place could still be good enough to get to Indianapolis.
"I think that's good news," Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said Wednesday at practice in State College, Pa., about being eligible for the division title.
O'Brien said he would mention it to his players at some point but added, "I'm sure they read the Internet, so they know."
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer was pleased when told of the news on Wednesday.
"I never heard that. I never thought about it. And it's not going to make us play harder this Saturday," he said. "But somewhere at a point in November or something, yeah, that'll be interesting."
The NCAA declared Penn State ineligible to play in bowls for the next four seasons due to the Jerry Sandusky child-abuse scandal that rocked the program and sport. Ohio State is banned from a bowl this year because of NCAA sanctions for players trading memorabilia for cash and tattoos.
Meyer had worried that his team may not have any incentive to play well late in the season with no bowl available.
But now the Buckeyes could still reach a major goal and get recognition for it.
Buckeyes wide receiver Evan Spencer smiled moments after he was told.
"It's great, actually. It was a weird atmosphere because we never really talked about it, `Oh, we can't go to a bowl game this year,"' Spencer said. "Now that we actually get a chance to win a trophy it's kind of like a cherry on top. It's just something extra."
Meyer had said earlier this week that his staff might have to turn a regular-season game into an approximation of a bowl to motivate the Buckeyes down the stretch.
Now there's at least some prize available.
"We're 1-0 and we're not a very good team. We're average right now," Meyer said as his team prepared to play Central Florida on Saturday. "We're playing a very good team. So there's going to be zero conversation about (a division title) in the locker room."
Meyer's contract, which pays him more than $4.1 million in 2012, provides him a $50,000 bonus if Ohio State has the most wins in the Leaders Division this fall.
The Big Ten rewards trophies for co-champions, too. In fact, Penn State was co-champ of the Leaders Division last season with Wisconsin, though the Badgers won the tiebreaker and played in the conference championship game. NCAA sanctions later vacated Penn State's victories from last year, so its share of the championship was wiped off the books.
But if the same scenario played out this season with Penn State or Ohio State, they would be recognized as co-champions. In the case of any tiebreakers to determine which team plays in the Big Ten championship, an ineligible team would simply be eliminated from the process.
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