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Big Ten officials met new recruiting rules with angst and panic, according to emails

Graham Watson
Dr. Saturday

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The Big Ten Conference was one of the first to publicly speak out against proposed recruiting rules that would loosen the NCAA’s grip on FBS schools and allow them to basically create separate departments strictly for recruiting.

Eventually, the 26 proposed recruiting rule changes, which included lifting the rule requiring recruiting coordinators to come from the coaching staff that would in effect allow programs to build large non-coaching recruiting staffs (proposal 11-2), the lifting of limits on communication including text messages (proposal 13-3), and the elimination of restrictions on sending printed recruiting materials to prospects (proposal 13-5-A), were tabled, but not before some mass internal panic among Big Ten coaches and administrators.

According to emails obtained by The Gazette in Iowa City, Iowa, the proposed recruiting changes created some tense conversations among Big Ten officials about how the new regulations would alter college football.

In mid-February, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer sent a text message to Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald warning him of other teams in other conferences creating separate departments for recruiting that included NFL scouts on their payrolls.

“…there are already teams that have made plans to have separate scouting depts. [sic]. there has already been nfl scouts that have been told they will be hired to run the dept. (hired for over 200k). I checked with an NFL friend and he confirmed that there was much conversation about this. Appealing to scouts because of no travel. Also, there has been movement to hire Frmr players/coaches with big names to work in that dept. and recruit full time. This will all happen immediately once rule is passed. Thought u should be aware if [sic] this nonsense to share with who u feel can assist.”

Meyer’s text message was circulated among the Big Ten member schools.

And Meyer wasn’t wrong. Several schools in the SEC were already positioning themselves to take advantage of the new legislation by creating departments that just dealt with recruiting.

Here’s an excerpt from Orangebloods.com regarding the new legislation:

In talking with one source about the subject this weekend, I was told, "Alabama is building an army." He wasn't kidding.

While the Gators and Bulldogs each have directors of player personnel, Saban has hired four people specifically for that department alone. He also has added seven "football analysts," an "athletics relations coordinator" and a "recruiting operations coordinator."

All told, Emperor Saban has built a staff that consists of 28 soldiers for football only duty. All of them can be involved in recruiting at all times.

On Feb. 14, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany sent NCAA president Mark Emmert an email expressing his concern about the recruiting legislation and asking him to delay its implementation.

Emmert said the NCAA’s membership committee had vetted the legislation for months and that Michigan State president Lou Anna Simon was part of that committee.

“If now the membership doesn’t want some of these changes, fine by me,” Emmert wrote. “But to be honest, I don’t know how the membership wants to make decisions. The process used to make these changes was as open, representative and democratic and I could imagine — other than the old town hall convention model I suppose.”

Delany passed his exchange with Emmert to six Big Ten presidents and alluded that maybe they didn’t understand the depth of the rule changes and how they might adversely affect recruiting and their coaches.

“I’m not sure anyone has an appreciation of the compulsions, competitiveness and energy that underlies that pursuit of a 16 year old recruit by an assistant coach at our institutions,” Delany wrote. “This process of pursuing athletic talent nationally and globally is something we have never found even a half way healthy way of managing/regulating. This continues to be the case.”

The NCAA ultimately suspended the legislation on May 2 and it will be re-examined by an NCAA rules working group before it is brought back up to the membership committee.

It’s odd the Big Ten brass didn’t understand the how the changes in recruiting legislation would affect their programs, yet the SEC saw it as a major opportunity and immediately made moves to capitalize on it.

Recruiting is a competitive game and many would say the SEC has the upper hand. Heck, even Big Ten coaches took issue with Meyer, a former SEC coach, and his recruiting tactics after he poached some recruits from member schools shortly after he was hired.

Perhaps the Big Ten is just too nice or perhaps, as Delany pointed out, the conference doesn’t want to see recruiting devolve into coaches trying to undercut each other over the attention of 16-year-old kid.

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