College football: Recruiting proposals trouble Big Ten

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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Urban Meyer is relentless on the recruiting trail. If there’s an opening to win over a coveted prospect, he’ll take it.

Well, the NCAA has passed measures scheduled to take effect this summer that will greatly reduce restrictions on recruiting.

And Meyer is greatly troubled by them.

“Bad stuff,” he said last Wednesday on national signing day.

He vowed to write a letter to every coach in America explaining his disapproval. Yesterday, the Big Ten athletic directors and football coaches met in suburban Chicago, and Meyer’s opinion was clearly shared by the others present.

Afterward, the Big Ten released a statement saying it was “very concerned” about three of the 25 proposals scheduled to take effect. The league asked the NCAA to table them for further discussion. The changes would eliminate the limits on the number of coaches allowed to recruit at a given time and allow for unlimited communication, both electronically and through regular mail.

“Could you imagine what’s going to be rolling into kids’ driveways — Fatheads and magnets?” Meyer said. “It’s nonsense.”

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith agrees. Though a laissez-faire approach would likely benefit programs such as Ohio State that have plenty of resources, Smith is troubled by the new guidelines.

“The gap will get bigger, no question,” he said. “(But) it’s not good for Ohio State, let alone anybody else. This is not about growing the gap or gaining a competitive edge. This is about what we need to invest these resources in. In my view, it’s certainly not these things. I support deregulation, but not to the point where you have to spend more dollars.”

Smith said schools would feel compelled to hire staffers whose job would be to inundate recruits with electronic messages and mail to keep up with the competition.

“We knew certain places and conferences will do that at the highest level,” Smith said. “We (in the Big Ten) would probably be more restrained, so then we’d put ourselves at a competitive disadvantage.

“While someone might hire five or six people just to do that, we might hire two. But you shouldn’t be hiring any.”

Coaches also would be under more pressure to be in constant communication with recruits. Recruiting already is a huge time demand. With unlimited contact, it would be even greater.

“We work so hard to try to find ways to help our coaches find a work-life balance and spend time with their families,” Smith said. “I’m a big believer that we have to continue to find ways not to put more work on our coaches. Recruiting is a never-ending battle, but if you open it up to some of these things, it’s going to be hard for them to take breaks.”

The NCAA said the measures were passed in an attempt to “streamline and simplify” rules to include only ones that are “enforceable, consequential or contribute to student-athlete success.” It said its board of directors sought feedback from colleges throughout the process before last month’s vote.

What passed is highly controversial.

“It’s going to be crazy,” said Brent Williams, the father of Division I recruits, including Ohio State freshman linebacker Camren Williams. “I understand that the NCAA can’t police all communication, but this is somewhat of a cop-out.”

Stacy Elliott, father of incoming OSU freshman Ezekiel Elliott, said the deregulation would be unfair to parents and prospects. Stacy Elliott, who played at Missouri from 1989 to ’92, said the new rules would be similar to those in place — or not — when he was recruited.

“I was overwhelmed,” he said, “and we didn’t have Facebook. We didn’t have cellphones. We didn’t have social media. It’s going to be harder on the student-athlete and families.”

Brent Williams said he believes that ending restrictions probably will result in more serious violations.

“With increased access, I would think that might lend (itself) to moves of desperation,” he said. “It’s just my opinion, but it’s almost impossible for the NCAA to track and trace who calls and contacts players now. If you allow unlimited contact, (who knows) which number belongs to coaches, staff, the administration or boosters? Instead of tracking and tracing 100 calls a day from a school, they will have to track and trace thousands.”

brabinowitz@dispatch.com

@brdispatch

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