(97.1 THE TICKET) — Even though Big Ten Media Days are typically not an event that you circle on your calendar — if you are a Big Ten football fan — when they arrive you can’t get enough. It’s the unofficial start to the season — players are making promises, coaches setting expectations and there are always a few great storylines.
This year, the controversial head coach of Ohio State Buckeyes, Urban Meyer, raised a lot of eyebrows when he mentioned that he wanted Cleveland Cavaliers superstar and lifetime Buckeyes fan LeBron James to come to as many football games as possible this year. In fact, he said the football office has an “open door” for LeBron to come whenever he wants, because it’s good for recruiting.
That’s right, Urban Meyer didn’t even try to hide the fact that he’s inviting LeBron to Columbus to recruit football players. He knows that if impressionable teenage recruits see LeBron in the football offices and on the field at Ohio State, they will be more likely to play for the Buckeyes.
A lot of people see the courting (or recruiting) of LeBron James as another shady or illegal SEC recruiting tactic being used by Meyer. However, if this was against NCAA rules, do you really thing Meyer would have been dumb enough to say this out loud? Of course not and since it’s not illegal, he should recruit LeBron.
More importantly, Michigan, Michigan State and the rest of the conference need to follow suit with a celebrity of its own. Sure there will be some that say that one should never follow in the footsteps of a character like Urban Meyer, but he’s not breaking the rules and there are huge potential benefits to inviting stars like LeBron James to football games.
Imagine this scenario: it’s a cool night in October at Ohio Stadium. The Buckeyes are in the lead by three points in a close conference game with seven minutes to go. All throughout this intense game, ESPN has been showing shots of LeBron on the sidelines wearing a large scarlet Ohio State sweatshirt. Then Braxton Miller takes the snap and runs fifteen yards for a touchdown to put Ohio State up by nine. The crowd goes wild and starts chanting “we love tattoos” or “long live Tressel” and the fight song roars as Miller is mobbed by his teammates.
Then as he heads to the sidelines — before he is greeted by Meyer — the cameras catch Miller giving LeBron a high-five and a hug before both strike the Heisman pose.
That’s a powerful image that sports fans and certainly teenage recruits will see live during the game and on reruns of SportsCenter for hours, if not days. That image is strengthened in the mind of a recruit, when he takes an official visit to a Buckeye football game and takes a selfie with LeBron before a game. Then, before heading back home with his parents, the recruit tells Urban Meyer that he will commit to Ohio State.
That can, and probably will, happen this year if LeBron agrees to help out his favorite college football team. Because it’s legal, there’s nothing that Michigan and Michigan State can do to stop it. Their only response should be to follow suit.
I don’t know who the celebrities should be for each school, but Brady Hoke and Mark Dantonio need to find them and recruit them hard. We all remember Eminem’s interview on ESPN last year at the Big House. Even though he said, he’s more of a Lions/NFL fan than a college football fan, it seems like he’s a Wolverines fan. If I was Hoke, I’d give him a sideline pass to every game and allow him to freely mingle with players and recruits. I’d even put him in the pump up video alongside Charles Woodson and Tom Brady if it helps. And it certainly wouldn’t hurt because when it comes to recruiting, if a teenager is more likely to commit when he’s star struck in the presence of an A-list celebrity, there’s no reason not to invite one to the game.
While we’re at it, it’s been over two years and still no one in the Big Ten except for Ohio State has implemented an iPad program. Shortly after Meyer took over, the Deep South Buckeyes football program he pioneered gave a petty $400,000 investment to give every Ohio State student-athlete (not just the football players) a free iPad. Somehow the NCAA has no problem with this thinking that these Buckeyes are feverishly studying pass rushes or chemistry when we all know they’re just playing Angry Birds or Skyping with car dealer about getting a free car.
Urban Meyer can walk into the house of any recruit in the country with an iPad and say, “want one of these? All you have to do sign with Ohio State in February.” Considering every Big Ten school gets in excess of $20 million each year from the Big Ten Network, finding an extra $400,000 or so to implement a similar, legal program shouldn’t be too hard to start, but for some reason Hoke, Dantonio and the rest of the Big Ten have been reluctant to follow Meyer’s lead.
Before anyone gets carried away, let me be clear about this. I am not recommending that Michigan, Michigan State or any other Big Ten team, blindly mimic Meyer’s every move and turn their football program into a pit of lawless rebels that constantly searches for ways to break NCAA rules.
I’m just saying that coach in Columbus knows just about every trick in the books when it comes to luring a recruit to his school and if he’s doing something legal (like handing out iPads like Halloween candy or using a celebrity as a recruiting tool) it’s best to copy and reap the benefits, not dismiss it as borderline unethical.
Even if your team just beat the Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship Game.