The SEC is really, really good at recruiting. According to the 247Sports team rankings, it hauled in seven of the top nine and nine of the top 16 classes in America this past cycle.
For coaches in other conferences, that dominance can lead to bitterness and resentment. And according to South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier, that bitterness and resentment might lead to shadowy recruiting tactics.
Update: Tuesday, Feb. 18 – 2:12 p.m.
According to South Carolina's 247Sports affiliate, The Big Spur, sources say that the Big Ten school in question is Nebraska:
Sources have told TBS that the school Spurrier did not name is Nebraska, which went head-to-head with the Gamecocks in the recruitment of three-star defensive lineman Blake McClain (Jacksonville, Fla./Sandalwood) in the closing days of the 2014 cycle.
McClain was previously committed to Nebraska but flipped to the Gamecocks on national signing day.
--END OF UPDATE-
Per Michael Carvell of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Spurrier had this to say on how a Big Ten school recruited against the Gamecocks:
We don’t run into much of any negative recruiting around here as SEC coaches. We were involved with a player who was being recruited by a Big Ten school. They got negative a little bit with ‘There’s a lot of crime in Columbia, the big city. They don’t graduate their players,’ which was completely untrue. They searched for a little bit of everything but the player came with us anyways.
That sounds more like a political smear campaign than a recruiting pitch.
As coaches, shouldn't you want a player who likes your own school enough to commit there rather than one who simply dislikes other schools enough to commit elsewhere?
Still, it's hard to imagine there's not more of this going on. The recruiting trail is a dirty, squalid place where getting a commitment from a teenager often trumps moral righteousness.
Ideally, every pitch would be positive. But college football is far from an ideal world.
Thus, the biggest revelation here is that SEC coaches aren't recruiting negatively among themselves.
If Spurrier is to be believed—which is always up for debate given the Old Ball Coach's flair for the dramatic—it seems there's some sort of unspoken fraternity among coaches in the Southeastern Conference.
A pact that (at least) one Big Ten coach doesn't understand.
(Side note: A quick rundown shows that Wisconsin with Chris Lammons and Nebraska with Blake McClain were the only Big Ten teams competing with South Carolina for a prospect on national signing day. But, as the offense might have taken place earlier in the recruitment process, it seems unfair to cast stones at either staff.)
According to Carvell's article, Spurrier also quashed ideas that he might be getting close to retirement—a notion that other coaches have previously used to recruit negatively against South Carolina.
"Physically and hopefully mentally, I’m the same as I was 20 years ago," said the 68-year-old coaching icon. "I probably do more as a head coach than 90 percent of the guys out there, as far as game day and calling the plays."
"So really, age is just a number."
Back to the drawing board, anonymous Big Ten coach.
Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT