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P.S.R. Op-Ed

All’s Fair in Love, War and Recruiting

Forget about the fact that Urban Meyer has only been at Ohio State for two months, because it doesn’t matter. Ignore the fact that he’s still seven months away from actually leading the Buckeyes onto the field in a game that counts, because it doesn’t mean a thing. Meyer may be new in town, but that hasn’t stopped him from climbing into the head of nearly every coach in the Big Ten, thanks to a national signing day haul that left all but Michigan’s Brady Hoke in the dust. It’s Hoke, after all, who went toe-to-toe with Ohio State’s newly-minted recruiting giant and more than held his own; it’s also Hoke, reached for comment yesterday, who told an Ohio television station that recruits who have given another program their verbal commitment are still fair game.

Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema thinks otherwise: he thinks that the Big Ten should adhere to a gentlemen’s agreement that, according to Bielema, has defined the conference’s recruiting efforts for generations. At its core, this agreement makes verbal commits — that’s a non-binding, unofficial commitment, by the way — out of bounds for any coach working within the conference.

There are things more antiquated in college football than the Big Ten’s perceived gentlemen’s agreement. Here are a few: leather helmets, the Wing T, a Notre Dame national championship, cowboy collars, the Gotham Bowl, one-bar facemasks and the Veer.

There is nothing sillier than a scorned coach actually believing this agreement exists. And if there is anything sillier than believing in the Big Ten’s holier-than-thou recruiting approach, it’s that a coach less than two years removed from breaking the cardinal rule is proclaiming its merits from the nearest soapbox.

In the fall of 2010, Bielema and Wisconsin hosted then-Iowa commit Melvin Gordon for its home date against Ohio State. Gordon gave the Badgers his verbal commitment shortly after his visit, later inking his letter of intent of national signing day.

Gordon was a “young man that was committed to another school, actually in our conference, early on,” said Bielema following last February’s national signing day. But he “came to the Ohio State game and saw the light and changed his mind.” So, in Bielema’s mind, what he did in 2010 has no bearing on the absolute indignation he flashed over Meyer’s ability to swing offensive lineman Kyle Dodson away from Wisconsin and to Ohio State.

“We at the Big Ten don’t want to be like the SEC — in any way, shape or form,” Bielema told Sporting News’ Matt Hayes. When it comes to recruiting differences, when one coach wants to speak with another’s verbal commitment, Big Ten coaches “settle things among ourselves,” said Bielema.

Ignore the hypocrisy, though it’s difficult to wave aside the idea that Bielema is picking and choosing his battles in the most childish fashion possible: I’m angry now because I’m the one getting hurt, but I’m fine when it’s someone else getting their panties in a bunch. Bielema dropped 83 points on hapless Indiana in 2010; what’s worse, showing up an overmatched foe on a fall Saturday or showing up an overmatched coach in February?

Mark Dantonio and Pat Narduzzi gnashed their teeth over Meyer’s pursuit of defensive end Se’Von Pittman, a former Michigan State commit who signed with the Buckeyes on Wednesday. Meyer, from his side, said that the pursuit was mutual, that Pittman was as interested in Ohio State as Ohio State was in him. Seems like Michigan State, after having such friendly dealings with Jim Tressel, Dantonio’s former boss, was upset that Ohio State’s new head man didn’t extend the same recruiting courtesy. In case the idea has yet to hit home: The new boss is nothing like the old boss.

There are Big Ten coaches who — and this is based merely on perception — could call out Meyer for dipping his toes in their recruiting pool; Joe Paterno would have qualified, for instance, and for a present-day example, I think Pat Fitzgerald’s name carries enough weight to make his coaching brethren stand up and take notice. Bielema’s name doesn’t carry that sort of gravitas. How could it, seeing that he’s a season away from beating Meyer to the punch?

But the bigger issue here is the idea that Meyer, in the span of two months, has reversed the Big Ten’s laissez-faire approach to the recruiting trail. His own approach to national signing day is the equivalent of Blackbeard trolling the West Indies: What’s yours is yours, until it’s mine. Meyer’s recruiting approach is all SEC, all the time.

And the rest of the Big Ten is on notice. Stay the course, sticking to this ridiculous notion of a gentlemen’s agreement that leaves little to chance? At the same time, this method leaves little opportunity for the late-in-the-game additions that often push a program’s class into the top 10 nationally. Alabama might strike early, for example, nailing down 10 recruits before September, but the Crimson Tide’s class was the best in the nation because Nick Saban had no compunction about raiding ships throughout the SEC.

The choice is simple. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Not trying to keep pace with what Meyer is doing on the recruiting trail will lead Bielema and Wisconsin — or another would-be conference power — into second-tier oblivion, fighting for second place and a secondary bowl. Hoke gets it, which might explain how he was able to retain most of his class despite Meyer’s arrival; it might also explain why Michigan is in a better place today than the program has been in years.

The Big Ten will catch up. And those who don’t will straggle along, fighting for a piece of the pie until they realize that the only way to succeed is to play the game. Bielema should save his Big Ten-themed soapbox for a topic like four-year scholarships, a neat and tidy rule picked up by most of the league’s 12 programs that reflects well on the conference as a whole.

Don’t want to be like the SEC? Well, too bad: you no longer have a choice. And based on recent history, the Big Ten could use a little SEC flavor; this is the league that has won six straight national titles by hoarding every nugget of talent it can find, whether that talent lie in its own backyard, across the country or on another team’s list of verbal commitments.

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  1. George says:

    Bravo. Meyer and Hoke seem to get it – there are no friends on the recruiting trail. In order for the Big Ten to consistently beat SEC teams in bowl games, Big Ten coaches are going to have to consistently beat SEC teams on National Signing Day.

  2. DMK says:

    Remember, too, that an awful lot of recruits have never even been two towns over, are getting plenty of ignorant and bad advice from everyone they know, and don’t understand anything whatsoever about the gentlemanly arts. They play good ball. That’s it.

    Some kids still put on their blue blazers, look Coach Bryant straight in the eye, and seal a promise with a firm handshake. Not too many, though.

    I have no idea how someone could commit himself to 3 or 4 different schools within the space of a month. Par for the course these days.

  3. NICK says:

    there has to be more going on than the “gentleman’s agreement” if bielema’s comments about “illegal” activity are in any way accurate. (1) it’s not illegal.. using that word would be an epic misstep if that’s what he was referring to, (2) if he’s sending Alvarez to discuss with Delaney, there has to be more to it, (3) if, as he claimed, he reached out to Meyer and Meyer agreed to stop the conduct, then it can’t be recruiting committed prospects. Meyer would NEVER agree to stop doing that.

    There’s a lot more info that needs to come out before we can write this off as merely “sour grapes.” Dantonio/Narduzzi on the other hand, sound just like bitches.

  4. Larry Keltto says:

    Barry Alvarez’s comment today to Joe Schad:

    “Urban was very aggressive but there is no pact within the conference not to continue to recruit. Open season until they sign.”

  5. Adam says:


    I can. These kids are 17-18 years old. When i was a junior, and wasn’t even an athlete, I had a hell of a time deciding where I wanted to go to school, and an equally as hard time trying to figure out my major.

    Having just graduated this spring I have attended three schools with four different majors with the final stop being Ohio State and Social Work.

    On top of academics (if the kid even cares, and I forgot to mention location/distance of university)they have to think about all of athletic factors. Do they like the HC, their position coach, and coordinator? Do they like the system? Their future teammates? The universities ability to market them to a pro career?

    Its fair to say that a recruit has significantly more factors to consider when choosing where to spend the next 3-5 years of their life. This is a tough decision at 24, much less 17-18.

    Also not all of these kids get good advice.

  6. Mike says:

    This year saw a number of unusual circumstances.

    1. Meyer was only there for 2 months and missed much of the initial recruiting. Many of these kids may well have been grabbed by him before they gave verbals to someone else.

    2. Some of the flips were guys that really wanted to play for OSU and only went elsewhere because of the coaching instability that existed at the time.

    3. PSU blows up and winds up in a similar situation in terms of coaching uncertainty.

    Time will tell but my guess is next year B1G recruiting will be more “traditional.”

  7. Mike says:

    > Many of these kids may well have been grabbed by him before they gave verbals to someone else.

    Whoops. I meant the above in the context of Meyer being there the whole time for recruiting.

  8. Patrick says:

    Actually, to compete with the SEC the Big Ten schools simply need to lower their academic standards. Shouldn’t be that difficult.

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