COLUMBUS — Nothing has been able to slow down Ohio State on the recruiting trail over the last decade-plus.
Not Michigan, not Penn State and certainly not anyone or anything else in the Big Ten.
Ohio State, which has the country’s top-ranked recruiting class in 2021 and second-ranked class in 2022, is in a standstill. Sure, there are young men around the country still finding their way onto the Buckeyes commitment lists. But outside of perfunctory conversation and basic relationship maintenance, according to Lettermen Row sources, Ohio State has all but shut down its recruiting efforts for the time being.
“We took a little break,” top Buckeyes 2022 target Caden Curry told Lettermen Row this week. “So they could figure their season out.”
Clemson, preparing for their football season as usual, offered Curry on Wednesday.
Ohio State coaches, its support staff, players and their parents are pissed off. They’re not alone, certainly. But it’s different for the program, which has buoyed the Big Ten for the last two decades. It was a national-title favorite this season and in position to continue rising the tide of the league, lifting all its boats.
Instead the Buckeyes are sitting at home waiting for any answer to any number of questions that will affect the Ohio State program, the Big Ten and college football for the foreseeable future. Nothing has been addressed or adjusted in six months since the Covid-19 pandemic began, and recruits, their families and the men and women working inside of the Big Ten are hurt. They’re angry.
They’re losing hope.
“Between the NCAA and the Big Ten,” one prominent staff member in the conference said, “I’ve lost all faith in college football.”
The Big Ten was in a bad place when Urban Meyer arrived in Columbus, and his hiring by the Buckeyes forced other teams around the league to play catch-up. It led to significant improvement in the quality of the coaches in the league and brought with it a renewed push from its members to improve facilities around the conference.
Maryland, Purdue, Nebraska, Indiana, Northwestern and others have all invested millions of dollars into football programs that funded athletic departments. Now those departments are facing huge deficits and imminent cuts to non-revenue sports, and outside of a feeble attempt at pacification through some word salad by new commissioner Kevin Warren on Wednesday night, no one knows why.
On Friday, the NCAA will try to start clarifying its rules, but not its plans. There’s a vote expected that will approve extra eligibility for anyone who plays football this fall, meaning that no matter how many games are played, this season won’t count against the traditional five-years-to-play-four standard. Of course, that doesn’t provide any sort of answer to the Buckeyes and the rest of the Big Ten as they try to provide recruits with a plan for their futures. If Ohio State doesn’t play this fall, but plays in January, will its players receive the same exemption?
Again, no one knows.
“That’s only if guys play in the fall, right?” 5-star running back TreVeyon Henderson wondered. “I don’t know anything.”
No one knows what happens with eligibility. Or redshirts. Or transfers. Or signing periods or roster limits. Or anything else. That’s making it real difficult to plan or recruit with a new message.
Instead, the Buckeyes have just had to basically stop recruiting.
“There is no information given on how it’s going to work,” a Big Ten source said. “We’ve got no idea. None.”
The lack of dialogue from the Big Ten has led to what could be catastrophic consequences for everyone involved. It’s hard for well-paid, well-qualified people to justify working for inept leadership when others leagues are thriving. It’s hard to imagine how a league that could lose a billion dollars in revenue from a lost football season can require schools to pay for 15-25 more scholarships per school.
All questions. No answers.
“Parents, the players and coaches, don’t know why specifically the presidents made their decisions,” one Buckeyes parent told Lettermen Row. “We don’t know who voted no and on what basis, what data they used or why they chose six days after releasing schedule to cancel.
“It’s been crickets from everyone.”
And that extends to recruiting. It’s the lifeblood of college football, and it’s why Ohio State has been able to keep the Big Ten in the national title picture for the last two decades while the rest of the league floundered. The lack of transparency, the lack of a plan and the lack of concern for the men, women and athletes who represent the league has turned a justifiable response to a public health crisis into justifiable anger from the people most affected by it.
Does anyone in charge of the Big Ten care?
It better decide soon before the slowdown turns into a standstill — or regression.