When Urban Meyer was hired by Ohio State in late 2011, the Big Ten was at a low point in terms of national reputation. The conference was an annual whipping boy on ESPN and sports talk radio. B1G punchlines stretched as far as the ear could hear. And there was plenty of truth to what was being said.
While the talk of the Big Ten’s players being slow and plodding is still a claim I will happily dispute, the conference itself certainly fit that description. It was stuck in its ways — and happy to be there — because the Big Ten was counting fat stacks of cash all along the way.
B1G teams weren’t cleaning up in recruiting or in national reputation, but so what? You can’t buy anything with reputation or recruiting rankings. Rivals isn’t going to put a waterfall in your football facility, you know.
The problem, however, was that schools seemed more interested in simply having the money. Money was coming in, but it was also staying in. Seemingly, every agoraphobic dollar stayed locked inside the universities’ respective homes. Curtains pulled shut from the outside world of reinvesting. Nary even a peek outside to see what the neighbors were doing.
That all changed when Ohio State’s moving truck rumbled down the street and Urban Meyer moved in.
Within two months of being hired, Meyer had already rankled B1G neighbors Mark Dantonio and Bret Bielema by flipping players who were committed to their programs. They labeled his recruiting practices as “illegal” and “unethical”.
Meyer flipped a pair of Ohio players, and in turn, Dantonio and Bielema flipped out.
The long-standing “gentleman’s agreement” had been violated by Meyer.
Yes, the same gentleman’s agreement that was never really used or enforced. It was like one of those odd state laws that says you can’t ride your donkey on Sundays in the town square.
But here was Meyer on a Sunday in the middle of town square, riding a pair of jackasses like rented mules. And they didn’t like it.
So how did they ultimately respond? Dantonio went to work and has given Meyer two of his three Big Ten losses. Bielema, meanwhile, went to work for Arkansas less than a year later.
At the time of their complaining, I wrote about the fact that if the Big Ten didn’t get its act together, they weren’t going to like the results.
(Meyer) has changed the entire landscape of the Big Ten, and rather than adjust to it, some can only complain and hurl damnations.
Coming from the SEC, Meyer must look at some of these Big Ten coaches like they are lazy, spoiled children; a complaint for every situation, and a solution for none.
Coaching has been a problem in the Big Ten over the last decade plus, and it’s no wonder after hearing complaints like this.
When the hardest-working coach is also at the easiest place to sell, all an opposing coach has left is his arrogance and unrelenting desire for the status quo.
It’s certainly an unenviable situation to be in, but there are no arms being twisted here. Coaches are free to drop down to a level where they feel comfortable.
Urban Meyer is either going to bring the Big Ten into the 21st century screaming, or leave it completely behind.
Fortunately, the B1G went with the former option rather than with the latter. They decided to spend.
The conference is now in the midst of a resurgence. The Big Ten has reinvested in facilities and coaching staffs. No longer are programs needing ladders to climb onto their beds at night because of the amount of cash being stuffed under the mattresses.
While the recruiting bases in the Midwest and the Southeast are quite different from each other, the real difference between the Big Ten and the SEC over the last 10-15 years has been the coaches and the level of attention that football has been given by their respective universities. That changed when Urban Meyer came to Ohio State, and in just five years you had people believing the Big Ten East was the best division in football.
Was it? Does it matter? Perception is 9/10ths of the law, after all.
Since Meyer was hired, 16 other head coaching changes have been made in the Big Ten. Only Iowa, Northwestern, and Michigan State have stood the test of time. No, those changes aren’t all on Urban Meyer. Purdue doesn’t fire a coach to keep up with Ohio State, but they do fire a coach to better invest the money that their conference is making so that they can try to keep up with the schools that are trying to keep up with the Buckeyes. Basically, they don’t want to be bringing up the rear, so they try to stay with the pack. That has been the real change in the Big Ten, and just like it was for the SEC, that’s what will put this conference back at the top.
Call it “trickle-up economics” if you want.
Now, when people talk about the best conference or division in college football, there is at least a discussion to be had.
“I don’t think there’s a gap at all,” Meyer said of the B1G and SEC last week. “And that’s no disrespect to other conferences. To give my opinion on other conferences or when I hear that, I have no idea. But I’ve coached in the SEC East when that was one of the strongest in the country. And I think the Big Ten East right now is every bit as strong as I can remember the SEC East.”
The results aren’t just being seen on the football field, either. It is seen in other areas as well.
“I thought recruiting, I was shocked at the disrespect the Big Ten had in 2012,” Meyer said. “I don’t feel that at all anymore. I feel a great amount of respect nationally about the Big Ten. You sit and look at the national recruiting rankings and you see the Big Ten everywhere, all over the place, and that’s the way it should be.”
While Meyer himself deserves some credit for forcing the Big Ten to try to keep up, he accepts none of it publicly.
“There’s a lot of credit to be given, obviously to the administrations that invest in their programs and to the coaching staffs that are out there doing the work,” he said. “And this is as tough a conference as there is.”
The schools of the Big Ten have decided to get serious. Or at least more serious than they were. No, Urban Meyer doesn’t deserve all of the credit. But ask yourself this — would the Big Ten be where it is right now if Meyer hadn’t gotten back into coaching?
And would there have been such a need to keep up if there was nobody to set the pace?