The vultures are circling over the gutted, bleeding body of Penn State football.
And they have the full blessing of the NCAA.
At least two top recruits in the Class of 2013 (Greg Webb and Ross Douglas) have already rescinded their verbal commitments to the Nittany Lions. Webb is headed to North Carolina, while Douglas is going to Michigan. More recruits are sure to abandon the sinking ship that is PSU football.
But it's not just recruits who will bail on the Lions. Some of the best players on the current PSU roster are sure to join them.
According to multiple reports, Southern Cal has already reached out to the Lions' best offensive player, running back Silas Redd, in an attempt to lure him to the West Coast. If Redd leaves, who could blame him?
Southern Cal is one of the elite programs in the nation and a legitimate national title contender. Penn State, meanwhile, can't play for a championship of any kind and isn't eligible for a bowl for the next four years. Redd has two years of eligibility left. If he becomes a Trojan, he will also get significantly more exposure in his efforts to attract the attention of NFL scouts.
Really, who could blame any of the PSU players for leaving? The NCAA has given them a free pass to transfer immediately -- or at any point in their college careers -- without having to sit out for a year. They can even transfer to other Big Ten schools, which is normally not permitted.
So the current Lions have a choice -- play for a Penn State program that can't play for championships or go to bowl games, and will soon be decimated by scholarship reductions, or leave for teams that are facing no such penalties.
What would you do if given that opportunity? It's really a no-brainer.
This may be a free-agent frenzy unlike anything we've ever seen in college athletics, especially for the Lions' more elite players.
Will all the Nittany Lions leave? Certainly not. The upperclassmen, especially the seniors, have surely developed an attachment and loyalty to the university and most will likely stay. Some have already vowed to do just that. Besides, the upperclassmen have limited eligibility remaining, which automatically makes them less attractive to other schools.
The underclassmen, however, are another story. PSU's top freshmen and sophomores could transfer to another school and make an impact for several years to come. Underclassmen are also less likely to be fully invested emotionally in Penn State. That is likely where most of the transfers will come from.
Two York County products -- Central York graduate Kyle Baublitz and Dallastown graduate Ben Kline -- are among those underclassmen. Both are likely doing some serious thinking about their futures right now. Kline originally committed to Pitt, but changed his mind when the Panthers made a coaching change.
Still, most of the Penn State transfers may not occur until after this season is over. That's because most opposing schools are currently at or near their scholarship limits. There may be little or no room to add Penn State players to their rosters. And the 2012 season is almost upon us, making it difficult to incorporate new players at this late date, even if there is room on the roster. After this season ends, however, that will change.
So, some Penn State players may use this season as an "audition" in an attempt to impress other teams, similar to a baseball player in his free-agent year.
This has put Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien in the unusual position of having to recruit his own players in an effort to get them to stay. That's just plain bizarre.
O'Brien said Tuesday that none of his players have decided to leave PSU -- yet.
O'Brien does have some selling points in his efforts to keep his current players and recruit new players. The Lions still play in an elite conference, still have sensational facilities and will still be on television most every week. Penn State, despite its current woes, also remains an elite national university. And O'Brien's NFL pedigree and contacts are attractive to players hoping to reach the next level.
But other schools that offer similar resources, but none of the penalties, will probably be able to poach some of the Lions' best players.
This season, Penn State may be able to keep the bulk of its roster intact, and the Lions may still be competitive. Starting next season, however, the real pain will begin to be felt. And by the time the scholarship reductions kick in for 2014, the PSU roster will most likely resemble something you would see at the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) level.
At that point, the Lions will have just 65 available scholarships per year -- the same as FCS schools such as Lehigh or Lafayette -- while facing a schedule stacked with major college powers such as Ohio State and Michigan, which will have a full arsenal of 85 available scholarships. It won't be pretty.
Those scholarship reductions will be in place until 2017. That likely means Penn State football can't start to seriously rebuild until the 2018 season. And it will likely be a decade, at least, until the Lions are again a national player.
That will be a long, painful wait for Nittany Nation.
Watching the vultures picking at the gutted, bleeding body of Penn State football won't make that wait any easier.
Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dis patch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdis patch.com or 854-1575, ext. 455.