In the two months following his hiring by Ohio State, Urban Meyer took what was shaping up to be a middle-of-the-road recruiting class and turned it into a consensus top-five group by the time National Signing Day 2012 had been put to bed.
In getting to as high as No. 3 in the Scout.com rankings, Meyer and his coaching staff flipped several highly-touted recruits, including some who had been verbally committed to other Big Ten schools. Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan State all felt the Meyer Effect in one way or the other on the recruiting trail, and it was the latter two programs that have not been shy about expressing their “displeasure” with the recruiting tactics that have brought to the conference.
Wednesday, Cleveland Heights (Ohio) offensive tackle Kyle Dodson announced that he was signing a Letter of Intent with Ohio State. The four-star lineman had been a verbal commitment to UW since last June, but began to lean toward OSU after Meyer came on board.
While not specifically addressing the Dodson flip, UW head coach Bret Bielema told reporters that he had prior concerns over what he considered recruiting tactics on the part of the new OSU regime that were — his word — illegal. As a result, Bielema claims to have spoken to Meyer about the situation and resolved whatever issue there was.
“There’s a few things that happened early on that I made people be aware of, that I didn’t want to see in this league, that I had seen take place in other leagues,” Bielema said during his signing day press conference yesterday. “Other recruiting tactics, other recruiting practices, that are illegal.
“I was very upfront, very pointed to the fact — actually reached out to coach Meyer and shared my thoughts and concerns with him. The situation got rectified.”
One of the issues — albeit not an illegal one — is Meyer “breaking” an unwritten agreement among Big Ten coaches in which, once a prospect commits to a program in the conference, other coaches decline to actively recruit the player. Meyer “broke” that “gentleman’s agreement” in the case of Dodson, as well as in the recruitment of Se’Von Pittman.
The four-star Canton, Oh., defensive end had long been a Michigan State commit, but flipped to the Buckeyes after Meyer’s hiring. Like Bielema, the Spartans took issue with Meyer doing something that “Jim Tressel and Mark Dantonio would never” do: “call or talk to each other’s commitments.”
“It sets a tone and starts a recruiting rivalry,” MSU defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said the Monday before signing day. “I guess it’s fair game. You don’t want it to be that way, but that’s how it is.”
Narduzzi went on to add that “you lose friendships over that.” We’re guessing that Meyer’s not going to be losing a lot of sleep over the loss of conference friends.
At his post-signing day press conference, Meyer explained the process of continuing to recruit a player who’s already given a verbal elsewhere.
“Sometimes they say, ‘How can you go recruit a young guy committed to another school?'” Meyer said. “You ask a question, ‘Are you interested?’ If they say, ‘No,’ you move on. If they say, ‘Yes, very interested,’ then you throw that hook out there. If they’re interested, absolutely [you recruit them], especially from your home state. Is it gratifying to take a guy from another school? Not at all.”
While it may be “pretty unethical” what Meyer is doing, at least in comparison to how business has been conducted in the Big Ten in the past, it is far from illegal and is not going anywhere. So, if the rest of the conference — Michigan notwithstanding; they’re doing just fine thank you very much — wants to avoid being run roughshod over on an annual basis in the recruiting game, they might want to consider adjusting to the new “recruiting rules” in the conference.
OSU’s hated rival already has; I’d suggest the rest of the conference respond in kind. For better or worse, Meyer has brought an SEC way to the Big Ten recruiting trail. Keep up, or future signing day tramplings could very well in the offing.
UPDATED 6:29 p.m. ET: It’s official. Meyer is in Bielema’s head.
Speaking to Matt Hayes of The Sporting News, Bielema stated that his boss, athletic director Barry Alavarez, will speak to Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany about Meyer’s recruiting tactics during a meeting in Chicago Friday. Bielema again complained about the recruiting practices utilized by Meyer and his OSU, hinting that whatever it was they were doing — Bielema would not delve into specifics as he seems more secure with blanket accusations made publicly — was illegal.
The biggest issue for Bielema, as well as Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio, is Meyer flipping recruits that had previously been committed to another program. The gentleman’s agreement that existed prior to Meyer’s arrival in the Big Ten? It doesn’t exist in Meyer’s old SEC stomping grounds. And, much to the chagrin of Bielema, it doesn’t exist in Meyer’s recruiting version of the Big Ten either.
“I can tell you this,” Bielema told Hayes. “We at the Big Ten don’t want to be like the SEC—in any way, shape or form.”
As the SEC has won the BcS title each of the past six years, and the Big Ten hasn’t won one since after the 2001 season, consider it mission accomplished, Coach Bielema.
Of course, we’re also talking about a head coach who went for two up by four touchdowns with six minutes left against Minnesota, and whose Badgers hung 83 points on conference foe Indiana, so the angst Bielema’s displaying about “fairness” should be taken with a significantly sized grain of salt.