When Urban Meyer came to the Big Ten as coach of the Ohio St. Buckeyes, he had to know that he wouldn’t be greeted with open arms by the rest of the conference. Sure enough, he wasn’t. Part of this was because he brought with him something that no other Big Ten coach at the time other than Joe Paterno had: a winning history that included national championships. A bigger part of it was that Meyer brought a Southern recruiting mentality to a Northern conference.
Around two months after Meyer got going in Columbus, the complaints were already out there. Most notable was Bret Bielema, then coach of the Wisconsin Badgers. Bielema denounced Meyer’s recruiting tactics and methods, even hinting that they were illegal under NCAA rules. Bielema also made a quote that is both comedic and sad to those who follow college football:
“We at the Big Ten don’t want to be like the SEC—in any way, shape or form.”
Bielema was referring to recruiting and specifically how Meyer recruits players, but it’s obvious how people including myself could see the hilarity in that statement. The heat on Meyer didn’t last long, but it is certainly something that will linger as long as Meyer is coaching the Buckeyes.
All that I took out of this was that the Big Ten sees recruiting as civilized and that Meyer’s tactics are uncivilized. If I’m on target here, the notion of civility in college recruiting is beyond ludicrous.
Recruiting is the most uncivilized part of college sports. It is cutthroat, kill or be killed and all of that. If there’s one part of the country that understands this when it comes to college football, it’s the south. Meyer brings experience from not only having coached and recruited in that part of the country, but also winning in that part of the country. He knows the recruiting game and how to play it.
Instead of complaining loudly and in public about Meyer’s recruiting practices, the Big Ten’s football coaches should have seen this as a wake-up call and still can. The fact that they were so taken aback by Meyer’s initial impact on recruiting shows, in my opinion, how far behind the Big Ten is when it comes to the competitive nature of recruiting. This is also a bit disturbing to me because the Big Ten didn’t used to be this way when it came to recruiting.
As for Bielema’s statement, it’s comically ironic because Bielema is now coaching an SEC school and will now need to adapt to the more realistic approach to recruiting. Either that or he’ll get killed both on the field and in getting the top players in the country.