Ohio State Football Recruiting: Why Waugh Will Not Have a Long-Term Effect
Ohio State football recruiting for the 2013 class hit an expected crescendo following the spring game two weekends ago. Just when Michigan appeared to be running away from the rest of the Big Ten in 2013 recruits, Urban Meyer landed verbal commitments from Joey Bosa, Lewis Neal, and Alex Anzalone.
These three defensive recruits were all ranked in the top 30 at their positions and immediately put Ohio State back into the mix for another Top Five or Top 10 recruiting class following the strong showing in Meyer's first class for 2012.
But then, Neal backed out of his verbal commitment shortly after leaving the warm afterglow of the trip to Columbus. These things happen in the roller coaster ride that is college football recruiting, thanks to the many convincing coaches and potential teammates all trying to sway high school athletes who are making one of the biggest decisions of their lives.
Things continued to go downhill as potential recruit Mike Heuerman decided to head to South Bend, and this week, Anzalone suddenly backed out of his verbal commitment to the Buckeyes.
According to some tough quotes from Anzalone and his father Sal in their local paper, the Reading Eagle, there appear to be multiple reasons that Anzalone does not think everything is right for him at Ohio State.
Not the least of which was the story that Ohio State's Compliance Department was advising all student-athletes and recruits to avoid and block contact with convicted sex offender Charles Eric Waugh.
Of course, the Anzalones will not directly correlate the actions against Waugh with the nearly immediate de-commitment, but the writing is on the wall with a picture of Alex and two other recruits with Waugh showing up on the Internet. What looked like a great recruiting trip to watch Ohio State's spring game has been forever tarnished in that family's mind by the bad publicity of Waugh.
So even though they will not come right out and say it, who could blame Anzalone and his family for reconsidering his many options? After all, he has until February or later to sign a Letter of Intent, and he might as well take the opportunity to make sure his eventual decision is correct.
Whether Ohio State will have any chance in being a part of that decision again remains to be seen.
The bigger question is this: Will the actions of this convicted sex offender have a long-lasting negative effect on Ohio State football recruiting?
It will be a surprise if the answer is anything other than no. While Anzalone may not come back into the fold, there are three reasons why Meyer will likely not lose momentum in building his current and future classes of Buckeyes.
No. 1: Ohio State dealt with the problem swiftly and definitively.
Although Ohio State has long had one of the biggest compliance departments in major college sports, the current probation and sanctions from the Jim Tressel era have the OSU Compliance Department on high alert for any possible problems.
And when the charges against Waugh became known to the department, the department acted quickly to tell all students and recruits to immediately cut ties with Waugh. Ohio State has been trying to educate fans, boosters and student-athletes on how to avoid any problems while using social networking, as those fields are beginning to draw more scrutiny from the NCAA.
The swiftness that Ohio State showed in dealing with this problem (or potential problem) illustrates how seriously the University takes keeping undesirable people away from student-athletes. Although it will always be difficult to keep reins on Twitter and Facebook discussions, Ohio State is acting as much as it can to keep bad actors away from the program.
There's no doubt Waugh will now be kept far away from the program and student-athletes, as Ohio State keeps the program in good form.
No. 2: Ohio State is not the only program with problematic fans.
Almost every program that falls to NCAA sanctions ends up having someone to blame for the bad conduct of the players and coaches. When college football programs are as big and successful as USC, Miami or Ohio State, the fanbases grow to encompass a large swath of society.
Whenever such a large sample of people is put into a group, there is no way to separate the well-behaved good donors from those who mistreat opposing fans or tend to break the rules to get their way. Whether that's illegal contact or benefits to recruits and players or other actions, these bad actors have the potential to stain any major college football program.
So, the task for compliance departments is to do the best job of keeping these bad actors out of the picture. Unfortunately, those actions usually have to be reactive rather than proactive because it can be difficult to keep track of all the fans and boosters who may come into contact with recruits and student-athletes during sporting events.
Thus, dealing with problematic fans is an ongoing battle for these programs, and one can likely judge how cleanly a program is operating by how well the compliance department deals with bad actors. Ohio State made a definitive statement that, even though the charges against Waugh are four years old, the program will not tolerate anyone who brings immediate bad attention to the University.
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images
Well, except maybe the University president, but I digress.
(And yes, I'm joking about President Gee; the man is a great leader for OSU who simply has a unique way of handling college football issues and media questions.)
The fact that Waugh chose to be a superfan of Ohio State instead of Kentucky or some other program should not reflect poorly on OSU. Instead, it should be understood that all fanbases will have some fans with bad reputations or bad crimes on their records, and that is OK as long as those bad actors are kept away from close contact with student-athletes.
No. 3: Waugh will be forgotten quickly, but Urban Meyer and his coaches remain.
As I mentioned above, nobody faults Anzalone for taking a step back and reconsidering his decision on where to play college football. Hopefully the swift actions taken by Ohio State will make this story and Waugh fade away from the spotlight that has shined so bright on this situation this week.
College football news moves at a rapid pace, and even more so on the recruiting trail. Anzalone can find comfort in knowing that the decisions (or lack thereof) of all the other top-level players in the 2013 class will push this story off the news radar in short fashion.
Waugh will move on quickly as well, as the chagrin of Buckeye Nation will either force him to quietly remain a fan from afar or to follow another program. No matter where Anzalone goes, his college football career will be dictated by his play on the field and his own conduct off the field—not some life lesson learned in the recruiting process.
Meanwhile, the constant that will remain for Ohio State will be Urban Meyer and his team of good recruiting coaches such as Mike Vrabel and Luke Fickell. These coaches will continue to teach their student-athletes how to excel on the field and how to become better men off the field.
That's how the program is sold to recruits and their parents. With Meyer's successful track record, these parents will consider him and his coaching staff more important in the decision-making process than some bad actor fans who are blocked and kept away from the program.
In other words, it all comes back to No. 1: Acting decisively to protect your student-athletes will show recruits and parents what the program is all about.
In the case of Ohio State, the program is all about the success of Urban Meyer and playing by the rules set forth by the NCAA. That will keep the high-level recruits rolling into Columbus as Waugh and this story become well-forgotten by the time spring football rolls around next year.
David Fitzgerald is a Big Ten Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Thanks for reading, and you can contact David on Twitter with any questions or comments.
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