RUSTY MILLER,AP Sports Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — There must have been a lot of interesting give-and-take when the Big Ten football coaches met at the conference offices on Friday.
New Ohio State coach Urban Meyer faced off with at least a couple of coaches who have called into question his poaching of recruits who had already committed to other programs.
Meyer’s first recruiting class on Wednesday included eight players who initially had said they were attending another school, including four who originally said they were going to Penn State and one each who had declared they would go to Michigan State and Wisconsin. Two others had verbally committed to Notre Dame.
“We had an opportunity to discuss a number of issues with each other and conference staff, including those that have arisen this week,” Meyer said in a statement issued after the meeting on Friday. “It should be noted that my coaching staff is in full compliance with our recruiting efforts, and no one on this staff did anything illegal or unethical.”
He said his staff would continue to be “relentless.”
Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema and Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio, in particular, have expressed their displeasure with Ohio State raiding other team’s recruits.
Bielema was upset over losing out on offensive lineman Kyle Dodson, who had said he was coming to Wisconsin, but then ended up signing with the Buckeyes.
“There’s a few things that happened early on I made people be aware of that I didn’t want to see in this league that I had seen take place at other leagues,” Bielema said on Wednesday’s first day for the signing of national letters of intent in football. “Other recruiting tactics, other recruiting practices that are illegal. I was very up front and was very poignant to the fact. I actually reached out to coach Meyer and shared my thoughts and concerns with him and the situation got rectified.”
Bielema did not go into further detail.
Dantonio, a former assistant to and close friend of former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel who was forced out for breaking NCAA rules, also said Meyer was not living up to protocol between Big Ten coaches.
“It’s a new program, a new head coach and a new testing of the waters,” Dantonio said of Ohio State. “It’s a two-way street. It’s always a two-way street. There’s always got to be the other person listening as well. But I do think that when it becomes a matter of twisting somebody — when you’re a 50-year-old man or a 40-year-old man twisting a 17-year-old — that’s when it’s wrong. I’m not saying that’s happening in the Big Ten Conference. But I see that happening around the country, when somebody de-commits on the day of signing.
“That’s when you have to wonder about the tactics.”
The Buckeyes signed defensive end Se’Von Pittman from Canton, Ohio, on Wednesday. He had verbally committed to Michigan State.
Spartans defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, also a former Tressel assistant, said at a speaking engagement in Canton, Ohio, that there used to be an unwritten rule between coaches in the conference.
“I’m not accusing anyone specifically,” Narduzzi said. “All I’m saying was that there was time when there was an understanding between coaches that if two of you were going after somebody and they committed, you backed off.”
Verbal commitments are just that, unofficial statements of a recruit’s intention. Until they actually sign their letters of intent, however, their commitment is not legally binding.
Still, most coaches in the conference have acknowledged an unwritten gentleman’s agreement to not swoop in and grab players who have pledged to another Big Ten school. Former Purdue coach Joe Tiller blasted former Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez for doing just that four years ago.
Asked Wednesday if he had “flipped” a lot of recruits this year who had committed elsewhere, Meyer said, “Sometimes they say, ‘How can you go recruit a young guy committed to another school?’ 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, especially from your home state.”
Ohio State is banned from going to a bowl game after the 2012 season as part of NCAA sanctions accrued under Tressel. The Buckeyes are also facing recruiting limitations (three fewer scholarships each of the next three years) among other penalties, including vacating the 2010 season and serving three years of NCAA probation.
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith also jumped to the defense of Meyer on Friday.
“I am disappointed that negative references have been made about our football coaches, and particularly head coach Urban Meyer regarding recruiting,” Smith said in a statement.
Smith said that Bielema and Dantonio should have voiced their concerns about Meyer to their athletic directors, who would then have discussed the matter. He also said that Meyer and his staff have had a “compliance conscience” in their brief time on the job.
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