B1G West coaches still like recruiting reach

May, 9, 2013
5/09/13
2:42
PM ET
Most muttering about the Big Ten's new division alignment came from fans of teams in the seemingly loaded East division.

Their teams suddenly have a tougher path to their top goals, whether it's the Big Ten championship game, the College Football Playoff, a top bowl game or merely any postseason spot. The main complaints from the West -- mostly from Cornhusker country -- pointed to the potential lack of exposure their teams would receive by not playing as often in mega venues like Michigan Stadium, Ohio Stadium and Beaver Stadium, not to mention in the new Big Ten markets of New Jersey/New York City (Rutgers) and Maryland/Washington, D.C./Northern Virginia (University of Maryland).

The theory is less exposure could damage recruiting, not only in the Big Ten's fertile new territories but in the existing ones like Ohio and Pennsylvania.

But four recruiting coordinators from future Big Ten West division programs contacted by ESPN.com this week don't sound concerned about division placement hurting their recruiting reach.

"I really don't think coming into the West division will affect us from a standpoint of kids trying to see what we're about," said Ross Els, Nebraska's recruiting coordinator and linebackers coach. "The biggest thing for us is to obviously get the TV exposure out on the East Coast, whether we're playing the guys in the East or not. With the Big Ten Network market picking up in Jersey and Maryland, it's going to help us, even though we are on the West side."

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
AP Photo/Nati HarnikAlthough West division teams like Nebraska will get less live exposure on the East Coast, the visibility they'll get from the Big Ten Network makes up for it.
The power of TV can't be minimized, Els said, noting that recruits in Texas, a former Nebraska recruiting hotbed, have less awareness of the Husker program because Husker games aren't televised as often as they were when Big Red played in the Big 12.

"But we are seeing the positive in the Midwest and now hopefully on the East Coast because we're on TV and that's what the kids are watching," Els said. "I'm interested to see what the response will be when we start playing Rutgers and Maryland or at least them watching us on TV more often. I think we'll even take another step as far as familiarity, but that's unproven right now."

Although West division teams will be getting less live exposure on the East Coast and in states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, the Big Ten's television exposure more than makes up for it, several coaches said. Every Big Ten home football game is nationally televised on Big Ten Network, ESPN or ABC, and most non-league road games are picked up by a national outlet.

Although players' family members still want to see them play live, they won't miss games if they can't make the trips.

"The Big Ten is a national brand, and with the Big Ten Network, you still can sell a lot of games being on TV, crossover games closer to home and have an opportunity to play new teams like Rutgers and Maryland," Wisconsin recruiting coordinator and running backs coach Thomas Hammock said. "With TV and having access to games online ... there’s probably less value placed on closer to home and more of the exposure of how much you can watch them play."

All of the West division teams assign coaches to recruit New Jersey andn Maryland. Purdue head coach Darrell Hazell, a New Jersey native, and running backs coach Jafar Williams, a Philadelphia native who played wide receiver at Maryland, handle the area for the Boilers.

Hammock, who hails from Jersey City, N.J., will continue to recruit his home state, where he plucked ESPN 150 running back prospect Corey Clement (Glassboro, N.J.) for the 2013 class. New Badgers assistant Chris Beatty, who grew up in Virginia and coached high school ball there, will target the areas around the University of Maryland.

Although the new markets already are priority areas for programs like Purdue, the effort there likely will ramp up in the coming seasons.

"It's certainly an area we want to pay attention to because of Coach Hazell's roots and Jafar's," Purdue recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach Gerad Parker said. "[The new additions] certainly perked our eyes because now we have a tie-in with the conference."

Matt MacPherson, Northwestern's recruiting coordinator and running backs coach, lists Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas as the three most important areas for the program's recruiting efforts outside of Illinois. The Wildcats have played at Penn State in two of the last three seasons, but the new alignment means they'll likely visit State College and Columbus just once every four years.

Still, MacPherson doesn't anticipate changing the team's recruiting plan because of the division alignment.

"When you're talking to a kid about the reasons for coming to Northwestern, you're talking not only a four-year decision but a 40-year decision, the rest-of-your-life-type decision," he said. "A lot of the kids we recruit and the families we recruit to can see beyond making that decision based on whether you're going to play in a certain football stadium one or two times in your entire career.

"I don't see it affecting us a whole lot as far as where we spend our time and resources, at least not until there's some evidence to say otherwise."

Although many Wisconsin fans didn't like the Leaders/Legends alignment because they moved away from regional rivals Minnesota and Iowa, former Badgers coach Bret Bielema often pointed to the recruiting/exposure advantages of playing Ohio State and Penn State every year. Hammock, meanwhile, had "no reaction" to Wisconsin being in the West, noting that the Badgers must play the schedule in front of them.

Some even see recruiting advantages to being in the West division.

"Being able to recruit the Midwest and push up to Chicago, being on that side of the line doesn't hurt us," Parker said.

Only time will tell how West division placement impacts teams' recruiting on the East Coast and in the eastern half of the league. But the coaches don't sound worried.

"Sure, we won’t be playing in the state of Ohio every year or every other year, but when people talk about the teams in the East, they normally talk about the teams in the West also," Els said. "So hopefully our exposure will still be pretty good in Big Ten country, regardless of which side we're on."

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