Update: Bielema doesn’t want Big Ten ‘to be like the SEC in any way, shape or form’

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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.

Ex-UCLA OC helped convince Wilton Speight to transfer to Westwood

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When Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight announced he was going to graduate and transfer to UCLA, many were caught by surprise given that the 6-foot-6 pro-style passer is not your typical fit for Chip Kelly’s fast-paced offense. While the new Bruins’ head coach brought up how Sam Bradford and Nick Foles ran his system to convince the quarterback to pick the school for the 2018 season, it was a former assistant at the program who appears to have been just as convincing in bringing the big QB to Westwood.

That would be Jedd Fisch, who was Speight’s coach in Ann Arbor for two years before he left to take the offensive coordinator job with the Bruins when Jim Mora was still in charge last season. The veteran coach returned to the NFL as an assistant with the Los Angeles Rams shortly after Kelly was hired but he reconnected with his old pupil to give him an honest assessment of how he’d fit in with a school sporting a different shade of blue.

“As a coach, you can kind of sniff out the B.S.,” Speight told the LA Times, “and he was able to do that and say, ‘Look, you’re getting what you see at UCLA and I think it’s the right fit,’ and I couldn’t have agreed more.”

Speight will join a very competitive race to be the starter for the opener against Cincinnati when fall camp rolls around. Devon Modster is the incumbent having gotten experience last year when Josh Rosen was held out of several games while incoming freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson is considered the future at the position and figures to see early playing time.

It remains to be seen just how good UCLA will be in their first season with Kelly in charge but the head coach will certainly have a variety of options to choose from at the most important position on the field this year.

Proposed California amendment would cap coaches salaries at $200,000

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Some states do everything they can to help out athletics programs in their borders, that is something that California has never really been accused of doing. A state-wide travel ban has already caused some ripples with regards to scheduling for some teams and it seems lawmakers in Sacramento are back with a new constitutional amendment that could hamper schools ability to pay their coaches.

UCLA student paper The Daily Bruin passes along news that a new constitutional amendment was announced last week “that aims to restrict the University of California’s autonomy by reducing staff salaries, the length of regents’ terms and the authority of the UC president.” That first item is the biggest to take note of, which would institute a cap on non-faculty salaries to $200,000 per year — something that would affect everybody from coaches to the athletic director and everybody in between.

The University of California (UC) system most notably includes Pac-12 schools like UCLA and Cal, which means coaches like Chip Kelly and Justin Wilcox could be affected. To take Kelly as an example, he signed a five-year contract worth a total of $23.3 million when he was hired by the Bruins this offseason.

Head football coaches salaries are not typically paid completely by a school directly however, so there is some wiggle room should this amendment wind up passing. Often a separate athletics organization will foot most of the bill using funds raised from donors while other outside companies sometimes also get involved. Things might be a little more interesting when it comes to assistant’s salaries or non-football/men’s basketball head coaches and support staffers however, who could fall under the purview of the cap.

In other words, some creative accounting practices might have to be implemented by schools like UCLA or Cal or else they’ll be at a significant disadvantage compared to their private school peers like USC or Stanford as well as conference rivals like Arizona or Oregon.

It’s far from certain the amendment will pass given that it requires a two-thirds vote in the state legislature as well as passing muster on a state-wide ballot measure during a general election. We don’t typically see college coaches wade too far into political waters but, in this case, they might be forced to because its one that directly affects their wallets.

Arkansas moving back to natural grass field at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in 2019

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It’s a new era at Arkansas with Chad Morris and a new athletic director in charge and not even the turf will be spared from seeing changes.

Per the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, the school will be moving to a natural grass field at Reynolds Razorback Stadium instead of replacing their current artificial turf again as it nears the end of its lifespan.

“Let me say my preference is I love natural grass,” Morris told the paper a few months ago. “That’s just me. Maybe that’s just the high school coach in me.

“Worrying about what the next surface out here looks like is irrelevant to me. I just want to get through a practice and get better today. But I prefer, I’m a natural grass type of guy. I love being on a grass field. There’s nothing better than that in college football, or football period.”

Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek confirmed this weekend that the change was being made in Fayetteville after the 2018 season concludes. The current turf was put in back in the Bobby Petrino era in 2009 and will need to be replaced after a decade or so of heavy use.

This will not be the end of Razorbacks playing on turf however, as they will not only see the stuff for games at neutral sites and at other SEC opponents but also when they make their annual trek to War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock — which had turf installed a dozen years ago.

West Virginia President on old Big 12 expansion craze: ‘Little bit messy’

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E. Gordon Gee is one of college athletics’ most recognizable figures, which isn’t exactly what you typically say about school leaders like him. The West Virginia President known for his trademark bow tie (and who has never shied away from an interview or a quip he didn’t like) is on the cusp of his first set of spring meetings in the conference as the new chairman of the Big 12 board of directors.

Speaking to the Dallas Morning News about a range of issues around the league prior to meeting in Dallas, Gee seems to have come around on conference expansion from a few years ago and thinks it not only could have been handled better, but it probably shouldn’t be done in the first place because being the smallest Power Five league has its advantages too.

“I’m not certain it was the best way to do it,” Gee told the paper. “It was a little bit messy — and I was part of the mess.

“Intimacy gives us an opportunity to do something that a lot of other places can’t do… We’ll play to our strengths. We’re small, but we can be very aggressive in positioning ourselves uniquely.”

I’m sure the folks at places like Houston and BYU would agree the entire process was messy but will certainly disagree with Gee about the Big 12 sticking with just 10 members. It certainly sounds as though the issue has been put to bed for the foreseeable future but if the merry-go-round gets going once again, at least we know that the process everybody goes through will be a lot different.