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 about being eligible for the division title.
O'Brien said he'd mention it to his players know at some point but added, "I'm sure they read the Internet, so they know."
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.
First-year Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has 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.
"We try not to look too far forward," Meyer said earlier this week. "(But) if it's (an opponent) that we have to make into a bowl game or wear a special shirt, we'll certainly do that. I'm hoping it doesn't come down to that, but we'll see."
Meyer's contract, which pays him more than $4.1 million in 2012, pays 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 that co-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.
AP Sports Writer Genaro Armas in State College, Pa., contributed to this report.
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