BY DANIEL VICTOR
Centre Daily Times
UNIVERSITY PARK — When highly touted football prospects such as quarterback Pat Devlin and wide receiver Vidal Hazelton visit campus, Penn State junior Brad Wilson does what he can to help urge them to become Nittany Lions.
But Wilson created an unfair advantage for Penn State when he distributed 40 hand-held signs cheering Devlin’s visit during a men’s basketball game, according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The fans who roared with Wilson unknowingly repeated the offense Saturday, when Hazelton was spotted in the Bryce Jordan Center.
Based on rules that prevent schools from publicizing visits of high school prospects, Penn State is asking students to stop creating signs and chanting the names of visiting recruits during basketball and football games.
Penn State is not, however, in trouble with the NCAA for past chants and signs.
According to an NCAA staff interpretation from Feb. 27, 1991, when a school learns of the behavior, “the institution would be required to take affirmative steps to stop such an activity.”
John Bove, Penn State’s compliance director, has called several student leaders into his office to explain the NCAA rule to them.
“Now that the students have committed the action, we’re now responsible for making sure it doesn’t happen again in the future,” Bove said.
Fans learned that Devlin would visit the Bryce Jordan Center on Jan. 21 from Web sites that use sources outside the athletic department. With signs in hand, several dozen to a hundred students peppered Devlin with chants of “Patrick Devlin” and encouraged him to rise from his seat with a “Stand up, Devlin” cheer. He did.
During Saturday’s men’s basketball game, students were ready to chant Hazelton’s name. One female student held up a sign that read: “Hazelton — I’m single.”
Visiting prospects often walk in front of the student section to their seats during basketball games, a practice allowed by NCAA guidelines. Cheering or applauding is acceptable, Bove said, but using the prospects’ names is not.
Hazelton, who’s from Staten Island, N.Y., walked in front of the students to his seat, but Devlin, of Downingtown, sat in a section above the students.
Wilson, after meeting with Bove, said that he had no idea the NCAA disapproved of his actions and that he won’t do it again. In the past, he’s chanted the names of then-high-schoolers Derrick Williams and Justin King inside Beaver Stadium, he said.
“We wanted to promote Penn State and show them that the student body wanted them,” Wilson said.
As long as Penn State is working to educate them, the fans won’t get the school in trouble, NCAA spokesman Kent Barrett said.
“It sounds like (Penn State is) doing exactly the right thing,” he said. “As long as they’re doing that, I can’t imagine what a potential violation would be.”
Compliance officials at Ohio State and Michigan State said they haven’t had similar problems with students. At the University of Michigan, the compliance office meets each year with the basketball student group about recruiting guidelines, said Matt Stolberg, assistant athletic director for compliance at Michigan.
“We’ve gone down that road where students had signs, and we’ve acted in accordance with the interpretation and told them not to use the signs, or took them away if we had to,” he said.
Jennifer Owsiany, a leader of the Nittwits, Penn State’s basketball student group, said she’s skeptical that students will stop their chants. They see them as an effective way to help their football team, she said.
“If I was in high school and I had people chanting my name, I can only imagine what it would feel like,” she said. “Holy moly, I would love it.”