In the SEC, a league that has won the past six BCS national titles, coaches can tell you recruiting is much like the games on the field — a no-holds-barred battle to the end. Almost anything goes.
After six seasons and two national titles at Florida, first-year Ohio State coach Urban Meyer knows that better than anybody. And his aggressive, SEC-like style ruffled feathers in the Big Ten.
Meyer's ability to land a consensus top-10 class just six weeks after his hiring caused some in the league to call into question his methods — and ethics. Meyer accomplished it despite an NCAA investigation hanging over the program's head that already has produced a one-year bowl ban.
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema called some of Meyer's recruiting tactics "illegal" and on Thursday told the Sporting News that his athletic director, Barry Alvarez, plans to ask Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany to address the issue.
"We at the Big Ten don't want to be like the SEC — in any way, shape or form," Bielema said.
Bielema is not alone. Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio used the term "unethical" for Meyer's tactics.
The major issue is after being hired, Meyer immediately went after players who had orally committed to other schools. It is not an NCAA violation because commitments become official only with a signed letter of intent.
Of Ohio State's 24 signees, 10 committed after Meyer was hired Nov. 28. Of those, eight had previously given nonbinding oral commitments to other schools, including Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State of the Big Ten and Notre Dame, an independent.
In the SEC, going after other school's oral commitments is not taboo. But Big Ten coaches see it differently. Recruiting analysts say not only is it legal, it's smart.
"If you're complaining about someone outrecruiting you, you're not going to be successful," said Scott Kennedy, director of scouting for Scout.com. "These (coaches) are making, multi, multimillions of dollars, and they have a lot at stake. You don't think I'm going to come in and recruit my own state? That's insane.
"You took advantage of the fact that we were a team in turmoil and I'm going to come in and say okay we're just going to call this class a mulligan? That's crazy. Gentlemen's recruiting went out the window with seven-figure contracts."
There's a reason some Big Ten coaches are speaking out. Meyer signed 13 of the top 250 recruits in the nation, based on Rivals.com rankings. Michigan signed nine, and the other 10 schools combined for eight.
Meyer said Wednesday that the topic was "nonsense" and added it's what any other staff in America would have done, especially a new one such as his. And he defended his tactics.
"Sometimes, they say, 'How can you go recruit a young guy committed to another school?' " Meyer told SI.com. "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."
At his signing day news conference Wednesday, Bielema said he doesn't want Meyer's arrival to change recruiting in the Big Ten.
In many ways, it already has.
"What he did at Ohio State in the last six weeks before signing day was unprecedented," Kennedy said. "I've never seen a coach come in and make a splash like that."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]m. Follow her Florida blog at tampabay.com/blogs/gators.