Until a recruit signs is Letter of Intent, he’s fair game.
Forget about your feelings and the fact that you’ve salivated over his highlight video on YouTube since the middle of his junior season. There is no loyalty in this peculiar yearly exercise, which no longer has a down moment. Not from the teams, the coaches or the players.
Recruiting is becoming more and more business-like—a trend that’s nowhere close to swinging back in sanity’s direction—and we should all accept it as such. It’s cutthroat, something we’re all very aware of. Yet, around this time every year, questions of ethics and recruiting code always surface, despite the fact that such a thing doesn’t actually exist beyond a loosely worded rulebook.
The scenarios remain very similar, even some of the faces involved, and 2013 is no exception. The top coaches want the top players, and if they see a chance to get them, they’re going to jump through a wall to do so.
Forget about the verbal agreements and handshakes that took place with a reluctant smile. Before that piece of paper is signed, nothing is final, nor should it be. A verbal agreement is just that. It’s as good as someone’s word, and in the case of a talented 18-year-old, that’s not saying much.
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer knows this well. Meyer is a fantastic and ruthless recruiter—a trend that became apparent in the SEC as well as during his brief time at Ohio State. He was recruiting from the moment he stepped off the plane in Columbus, and he put together a top-five recruiting class in only a few months.
In the process, he ruffled some Big Ten feathers. Then Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema referred to Meyer’s recruiting tactics as “illegal” while also adding, “We at the Big Ten don’t want to be like the SEC—in any way, shape or form.”
He clarified his stance to he Sporting News, and has since had a rather ironic address change.
One issue Bielema would talk about—and it’s perfectly legal under current NCAA rules—is Meyer’s recruitment of players who already had given verbal commitments to other Big Ten schools. It has been a longstanding “gentlemen’s agreement” in the league that coaches wouldn’t recruit players who had publicly given commitments to schools.
Fast-forward to another offseason, and Urban’s recruiting is once again raising some eyebrows. Not necessarily by specific head coaches, but the style has again caused this topic to surface.
When Chip Kelly recently and abruptly left Oregon for the NFL, Meyer saw an opportunity. He wasted little time inquiring about four Oregon commits, something John Canzano of the Oregonian made note of last week.
Dontre Wilson, a 5-foot-10, 174-pound running back from Texas, committed to Oregon last spring. He now plans to visit Columbus this weekend. Meanwhile, Ohio State celebrated Kelly's NFL announcement by rushing Buckeyes offensive coordinator Tom Herman to San Diego to visit four-star wide receiver Darren Carrington Jr., another UO recruit. Also in San Diego, Ohio State offered two more critical Oregon commitments, twin basketball/football stars Tyree and Tyrell Robinson, scholarships after the Eagles-Kelly business went public.
Meyer isn’t pestering players to ditch their commitment and come to Ohio State. He calls to inquire if they have interest in his school, and if they say no it ends there. No persuasion—minus the fact that Urban Meyer wants you at HIS school, which is persuasive enough—just a call.
If they say no, that’s it. If there’s interest on both sides, well, good luck to the team currently hanging on tight to that verbal agreement. Meyer explained his stance to Doug Lesmerises of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
"Sometimes they say, 'How can you go recruit a young guy 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 [you recruit them], especially from your home state. Is it gratifying to take a guy from another school? Not at all."
This honest stance is not only the perfect way to sum up Meyer’s style, but recruiting in general. As long as it’s legal—and much of these behind-the-scenes developments we’ll just never be treated to—it’s fine by me. I don’t love what it’s become, but I certainly have grown accustomed to feeling comfortable looking the other way. It is, after all, college football.
As competitive as the Saturdays are, recruiting takes it to another, uncomfortable level. There’s absolutely nothing gentlemanly about it, especially if you’re good at it. To be one of the premier programs in the country, you need to consistently bring in premier talent. To consistently bring in the premier talent, you need to exhaust all avenues and pitches—regardless of what we might think of it.
With the recent changes to recruiting rules, this will likely only become a more frequent topic of conversation. The limits on phone calls, text messages and even social media mentions on Twitter have been lifted, and the “dead period,” aka the two-week stretch when face-to-face contact between coaches and players is on its deathbed.
The NCAA is embracing the already competitive arena by removing the governors. While removing the governor on contact restrictions doesn’t correlate directly with how committed players should or shouldn’t be contacted, their stance speaks volumes.
Coaches will continue to poach players from the school you root for going forward, and you shouldn’t take it personally. The outrage is tired, predictable and hopefully your team has a coach in place that is attempting to do the exact same thing. It doesn't feel right, but the entire recruiting process is no longer for the faint of heart.
And if you ever get down on the process or recruiting in general, just remember: It’s just business.