Recruiting is often called a dirty business and more than one Big Ten coach has expressed his displeasure with the way Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer goes about attracting his student-athletes.
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema shared his discontent with recruiting Wednesday at a press conference in which he introduced the Badger’s recruiting class.
“There are a few things that happened early on that I made people aware of that I didn’t want to see in this league,” Bielema said. “That I had seen take place in other leagues. Other recruiting tactics, other recruiting practices that are illegal.”
Bielema went on to mention Meyer specifically.
“I was very up front and was very pointed to the fact, actually reached out to Coach Meyer and shared my thoughts and concerns with him,” Bielema said. “The situation got rectified.”
Meyer is making no apologies though.
“We’re hired to go after recruits as hard as we can,” Meyer said. “I mean as hard as we can.”
Offensive lineman recruit Kyle Dodson announced Wednesday that he will attend OSU even though he was previously committed to play for Bielema at Wisconsin. The change of heart is representative of a hot-button issue surrounding recruiting in college football.
The best football players from around the nation draw interest from the top programs across the country. A player can commit to a school, but that commitment doesn’t become official until the player signs his national letter of intent. Until the player puts his name on the dotted line, he is free to change his mind as many times as he wants and coaches are allowed to plead their school’s case until the ink hits the paper.
The first day a prospect can make his commitment official is referred to as National Signing Day. This year’s National Signing Day was Wednesday and Meyer received commitments from 25 student-athletes.
Several of Meyer’s recruits had previously made verbal commitments to other schools, but Meyer was successful in persuading them to officially commit at OSU.
At least six of Meyers’ 25 commitments, including Dodson, were verbally committed to another school before flipping their decision and opting to play for the Buckeyes come signing day.
Michigan State, Penn State, Wisconsin and Notre Dame all saw at least one recruit change his mind in favor of Meyer.
It’s long been suggested that there’s an unwritten agreement within the Big Ten that once a recruit commits to a school, all other Big Ten coaches will leave the player alone.
Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said such a rule existed between former OSU coach Jim Tressel and Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio and indicates Meyer might be breaking the rule.
“(The agreement) has been between the coaches,” Narduzzi said while speaking at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Luncheon Club Monday in Canton, Ohio, according to the Canton Repository. “Jim Tressel and Mark Dantonio would never call or talk to each other’s commitments. People coach Dantonio knows well don’t come in and take players away. When you do, you lose friendships over that.”
Meyer was able to lure defensive end recruit Se’Von Pittman from the Spartans despite Pittman verbally committing to Michigan State last summer.
Pittman is considered by recruiting experts to be among the top 10 players in the nation at his position.
“It sets a tone and starts a recruiting rivalry,” Narduzzi said at the luncheon. “I guess it’s fair game. You don’t want it to be that way, but that’s how it is.”
Meyer defended himself Wednesday at a press conference in which he and some of his assistants talked about the incoming recruiting class.
“Se’Von Pittman had a relationship with Luke Fickell,” Meyer said. “I think we helped it when I made that phone call. That was one of those things, he recruited us after a little bit … He always wanted to be an Ohio State Buckeye.”
And in case there was any confusion, Meyer made it clear he had no problem recruiting players already committed to other schools.
“There are some people that say, ‘How can you go and recruit a young guy that’s committed to another school?’ 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, especially if they are from your home state.”
Pittman is a Canton, Ohio, native and played high school football at McKinley High School.
But Meyer said despite his competitive nature, he gets no extra joy out of flipping a recruit away from another school.
“Is it gratifying to go a take a guy from another school? Not at all,” Meyer said. “Is it gratifying to know that we got the two offensive tackles that we went out from day one … ? That amazes me.”
Ultimately, Meyer said it’s up to “each individual school,” whether programs will recruit players committed elsewhere. He said in some cases, the players who are already committed recruit the coaches, but if, after an initial phone call, a recruited athlete doesn’t show interest, that’s the end of it.
“We went after a young guy in Cleveland, Ohio,” Meyer said. “I asked him if he was interested in Ohio State. He said no. I wished him the best of luck, do well in school, move on … If a kid isn’t interested, we’re done. We move on.”
OSU fullbacks and tight ends coach Tim Hinton defended Meyer.
“We really didn’t go into those to try to flip somebody,” Hinton said. “If there’s no interest in Ohio State, there was no flipping.
“At that time in their life, where they were in recruiting, for the reasons they were being recruited, they had an interest. From there, it begins.”