By Adam Hoge-
(CBS) A war has erupted in the Big Ten.
It started Wednesday when Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema fired a shot in the direction of Urban Meyer, strongly hinting that the Ohio State head coach was using “illegal” recruiting techniques.
“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, that I had seen take place in other leagues. Other recruiting tactics, other recruiting practices that are illegal,” Bielema said.
“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. The situation got rectified.”
Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio then fired the next missile toward Columbus, Ohio.
“(Ohio State has) a new coach, and it’s different,” Dantonio said. “I would say it’s pretty unethical, in the end.”
Both Bielema and Dantonio lost verbal commitments to Ohio State since Meyer took over in late November, which is likely why they are speaking up. A Sporting News story Thursday referenced a “longstanding gentleman’s agreement” among Big Ten coaches when it comes to recruiting players who are already verbally committed to another Big Ten school.
Clearly, Urban Meyer doesn’t care. All-in-all, Meyer took six recruits away from Big Ten schools, with four others decommitting from Penn State.
“You’re pissed because we went after a committed guy? Guess what, we got nine guys who better go do it again. Do it a little harder next time,” Meyer said Friday morning.
Welcome to college football in 2012, Big Ten. The rest of the country has been waiting for you.
Meyer is bringing SEC recruiting to the Big Ten. It’s a style that involves outworking everyone else and not quiting until the letters of intent have arrived hot on the fax machine. It involves doing whatever it takes within the rulebook — and sometimes beyond the rulebook — to win the recruiting war. And yes, it sure as hell includes being “pretty unethical”, as Dantonio put it.
But when have ethics ever been a staple of college football?
Sure, for the most part, respect among Big Ten coaches has been there for the last decade. Spats like this have been few and far between and when they have occurred, they’ve mostly been a result of something that happened on the field (see: Bielema going for two with a big lead against Tim Brewster’s Gophers because “the card” told him to).
Commissioner Jim Delany likes it that way. Coaches in every conference rave about the respect they have for one another, but the Big Ten takes it to a completely different level and for the most part, it seems genuine. Opposing Big Ten coaches are almost always seen having long chats before kickoff. Not a day goes by on the Big Ten Network without some coach or former coach raving about the respect they have for another Big Ten coach. The over/under on how many times the word “respect” is used by coaches on the weekly conference call is almost always somewhere around 30.
Of course, the conference hasn’t won a national championship in nine years either.
The SEC has won six in a row.
Urban Meyer won two of those.
“We at the Big Ten don’t want to be like the SEC—in any way, shape or form,” Bielema told the Sporting News Thursday.
In other words, the Big Ten doesn’t want to be anything like the conference that has won six national championships in a row.
It’s that kind of thinking that has the Big Ten looking like your classic professional sports franchise that is content with not winning championships as long as it is making money.
Meyer is here to change that thinking and instead of resisting, the rest of the conference should watch and learn.
Meyer knows a hell of a lot more about winning than any other coach in the Big Ten. Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz is the only current Big Ten coach that had his same job when Ohio State won the Big Ten’s last national championship in 2002. Bielema has been at Wisconsin for six seasons and believe it or not, he’s the second longest tenured coach in the conference. That means 11 of the 12 Big Ten head coaches have been hired in the last six years — the same six year stretch in which the SEC has won the BCS National Championship every year.
So maybe it’s time for the Big Ten to become more like the SEC in every way, shape and form.
Of course, if Bielema has evidence of Meyer committing recruiting violations, then by all means he should report them. The problem is, it looks like Meyer has called Bielema’s bluff and taken the whole pot.
Bielema’s own athletic director, Barry Alvarez — one of his mentors and the man who hired him — couldn’t even back him up.
“Urban was very aggressive but there is no pact within the conference not to continue to recruit. Open season until they sign,” Alvarez said, according to ESPN’s Joe Schad’s Twitter account.
Alvarez also denied talking to Delany “about any potential NCAA violations by other schools”, according to Schad. Bielema told The Sporting News Thursday that Alvarez would talk to Delany “about Meyer’s recruiting methods during the league’s athletic director meetings in Chicago.” That doesn’t mean Alvarez and Delany didn’t talk about Meyer, but it does mean they didn’t talk about recruiting violations.
There’s a big difference. And that might be where Bielema took his complaints too far by using the word “illegal” (something he needs to clarify).
“Pretty unethical” is OK. It’s college football. One could argue “illegal” is college football too, but it’s not OK.
Plus, Bielema admitted that Kyle Dodson — the recruit in question that jumped from Wisconsin to Ohio State — called him to tell him he made the move to the Buckeyes to be closer to his grandmother. After all, Dodson is from Ohio. I don’t need to remind Bielema that it was just a year ago when running back Melvin Gordon, a Kenosha, Wis. native, decommitted from Iowa and went to Wisconsin instead to be closer from home.
That’s why this is probably about more than just Kyle Dodson and recruiting players who have already committed elsewhere. Bielema has done that before and he knows that. But there is clearly an issue with Meyer’s tactics.
Sure, it’s suspicious that Michigan State and Wisconsin — the two schools that reached the first ever Big Ten Championship Game — each had a recruit ditch them for a school that is banned from postseason play in 2012, but it’s also very likely those two recruits just bought into what Urban Meyer was selling.
Maybe the rest of the Big Ten should buy into what Meyer is selling too.
Bielema and Dantonio might not like it, but instead of resisting, they better adapt. Otherwise, the Big Ten just has one hope to end the SEC’s run: Urban Meyer and Ohio State.
Adam is the Sports Content Producer for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.