It's not often one of the nation's top recruits comes from the North, but this year, four-star St. Paul, Minnesota, defensive end Jashon Cornell is at the top of the recruiting boards for many programs nationwide. This should be a rare golden opportunity for the Big Ten to have an edge in recruiting, but according to Cornell, they haven't taken advantage. It's not necessarily a problem with the schools; it's that the coaches don't recruit hard enough.
"The Big Ten needs to recruit harder. They need to really go after the recruits they really need," Cornell said. "They have to hassle you a little bit, on you every single day. That makes recruits think the coaches really want me and I could go there because the coaches want me so bad. That's what the SEC does."
That has been the criticism of the Big Ten since the SEC's dominance began — the Big Ten needs coaches who can recruit like their counterparts in the SEC, as Ohio State's Urban Meyer once complained. Heck, they need coaches who can recruit even harder because of their geographic disadvantages. They got that in Meyer, and now they're getting it again in Penn State's James Franklin.
Franklin has been a relentless recruiter since arriving in State College. He's dominating recruit-rich Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic, and he has the Nittany Lions' 2015 recruiting class ranked second in the 247 Composite. Now, he's expanding his horizons, exploiting an NCAA loophole by coaching at camps in the South.
Under NCAA rules, coaches cannot run camps more than 50 miles from their campuses. However, the NCAA does allow coaches to coach at other camps around the country — only the SEC prohibits it. So Franklin has taken advantage, working camps in the talent-rich South with small programs Georgia State (Atlanta) and Stetson (Deland, Florida). Franklin, via ESPN:
"Our thought was that the Big Ten and NCAA rules allow you to do these things," Franklin told reporters earlier this month. "And we wanted to not only have camps on our campus -- which we're going to have a bunch of them -- but also be able to maybe take the Penn State brand and be able to take it to part of the country [where] maybe young men and families wouldn't be able to make it to our place. And I'm fired up about it. It seems like the high school coaches are as well."
And Notre Dame plans on joining in on the idea soon too, and Oklahoma State has used the tactic to get into Texas.
Understandably, SEC coaches aren't happy with a Big Ten coach coming to their territory to recruit, which wouldn't work if he were subject to SEC recruiting rules. A sampling from that ESPN article:
- Kentucky's Mark Stoops: "It continues to be more of an issue."
- Ole Miss's Hugh Freeze: "I wish it was a national rule. I don't particularly want another school in a BCS conference coming into our state and running a camp."
- Mississippi State's Dan Mullen: "If you're going to have a football camp ... I don't know how Penn State relates to Georgia State football camp."
For the record, Georgia State coach Trent Miles couldn't care less that the SEC coaches are angry, and he pointed out the hypocrisy, especially when it comes to the timing, in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
"It's funny that anybody's complaining about this," Miles said Thursday. "It's not like this hasn't been done before - it just hasn't affected the SEC before. Now all of a sudden a big-name school is coming to a mid-major school like us and they're like, ‘Oh, wait a minute. We can't have that.'"
This is what it's going to take for the Big Ten to close the talent gap with the SEC. The conference is already recruiting harder on the East Coast with the additions of Maryland and Rutgers — and it's paying off — but the key to getting the best football players is getting an in down south.
Big Ten schools are going to have a tough time getting players to visit if they don't have good relationships with them, and one of the best ways to build those relationships is by acting as pseudo-coaches at camps. If you go to the recruits instead of making them come to you, you're going to have a better chance of pulling some out of SEC country.
James Franklin understands that, and he's the second Big Ten head coach to take the SEC head on rather than recruit around them. If the other Big Ten coaches follow his lead, maybe the conference can close the gap.