Recruiting Talk Dominates Big Ten

The topic of Big Ten coaches trying to entice recruits -- even those committed within the conference -- to come to their schools has been a major topic for awhile, but the free agency at Penn State opened up a new cam of worms. League coaches talked about the subject at length this weekend at Media Days.

Ever since Joe Tiller's "snake-oil salesman" comment about Rich Rodriguez, recruiting kerfuffles have become commonplace among Big Ten coaches.

Still, talk about recruiting – and its standard practices – might have reached a new high Thursday at the Big Ten Media Days in Chicago.

From rehashing the mini-fued between new Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer and Wisconsin mentor Bret Bielema to the ethics of recruiting the now free-agent players and recruits at Penn State, the game within a game was at the forefront as the league kicked off its annual gabfest.

For their parts, Bielema and Meyer publicly seemed to publicly decree a buried hatchet after Cleveland Heights, Ohio, offensive tackle Kyle Dodson switched from Wisconsin to OSU on February's National Signing Day.

That prompted Bielema to publicly make a vague reference to putting a stop to some recruiting violations Meyer had committed, violations the OSU mentor has repeatedly and vehemently denied.

But on the big stage in Chicago, the first-year Buckeye coach was magnanimous toward Bielema.

"We have a very, very good relationship," Meyer said. "I think you'd have to ask (Bielema), but we get along fine. We had a conversation about it at the Big Ten meetings, I believe it was in February. A lot of the things that were reported weren't said. We stand by exactly the way how we do things. And from my understanding, once again, it hasn't been discussed again, there's absolutely no problem whatsoever with the way Ohio State does their business."

Bielema, meanwhile, maintained his beef was not about Ohio State or any other program continuing to recruit a committed player, as some believed. In fact, the UW coach acknowledged that his program has done the same and indicated that he was now on the same page with his brethren.

"We never refrain from recruiting players that are committed to other places if they want to be recruited," he said. "I hope that would never change. And the great thing, I think, within our conference is that as this recruiting process plays out year in, year out, coaches are able to kind of just let things happen as they are and realize that every kid is in charge of his own mission to get to where he wants to be."

As for the Penn State situation, Meyer was adamant that he would not be calling any Nittany Lions – "I would have a problem with that," he said without flinching – but would be receptive if the player reaches out first to Ohio State.

"A young man has a right to play wherever he wants to play," he said.

That was most common reply from Big Ten coaches on the day, as Indiana head man Kevin Wilson, Minnesota coach Jerry Kill and Michigan State mentor Mark Dantonio agreed on the subject.

"I would want to do this with respect to Penn State in any way that I can with integrity," Dantonio said. "But at the same time, we have a job to do, and we do have relationships with some players that have gone there because we recruited them at an earlier time."

Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald wouldn't give a comment on the topic, while the rest of the reaction was mixed. Bielema was close to Meyer and others on the topic, saying he wouldn't actively pursue players given how close teams are to camp, but a pair of coaches seemed to be on the other side of the debate.

Purdue's Danny Hope hemmed and hawed before decreeing his team would exercise any opportunity to get better, while Illinois head man Tim Beckman was in an awkward spot.

Beckman sent a few coaches to State College just before the Media Days to talk to some interested prospects, then justified his program's aggressive nature at the Chicago event. He said his staff had notified Penn State about players they were interested in without stepping foot on campus and also noted that the reason Illinois did make the trek to central Pennsylvania was because two prospects had approached them about transferring.

"They had the opportunity to come to us if they would like to come to us and speak to us," Beckman said. "That's how we handled the situation."

First-year Penn State coach Bill O'Brien wouldn't talk about that specific situation on Thursday but did note that the situation was unique.

"The rules are what they are and guys are – it's like NFL free agency without the rules," O'Brien said. "So they can do what they want as long as they tell our compliance office that they're contacting these kids, and it is what it is, so I don't really have anything to say on that."

Among other coaches, Michigan's Brady Hoke said that he and his staff looked at the Penn State roster but would keep "our business our business," while Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, the dean of the league, said he and his staff will do what is "appropriate" given the circumstances.


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