Feeling a little philosophical this morning, my friends. I've been thinking all day about all of this whole mess over there in Columbus, and how the meltdown is deserved and how it will affect the Brady Hoke era. But then I got to thinking about life, and young men, and the choices I make.
And I got to thinking about Terrelle Pryor. I remember sitting in bed sick as a dog on National Signing Day, waiting for the first victory in the rivalry by Rich Rodgriguez, only to be blown off by an eighteen-ish year old kid several hours away from me. And even then, as I sat hoping he would choose a block M hat somehwere, I began to dislike him.
But throughout all of this, he is just a young man, making choices. We've recently seen in our own camp how the choices of a young man can and will crush his dreams, and you can all speculate about who I am referring to. But these choices affect us only until their position is filled by another athlete. But for the student-- the kid-- it will affect much more.
Ten, twenty years from now, Terrelle Pryor (and probably each of the rest of his Tat-gate posse) will wake up. He will scramble out of bed, perhaps a bit slowly as a result of a few, or even several, years in the National Football League. I will not speculate on the quality of his home, or perhaps who might be lying beside him in that bed. But he will wake up and have to pee.
And so Terrelle will go into the bathroom, a pale shadow of the athlete he once was. He will turn on the light, and look in the mirror. He'll stare into his own eyes, at peace with the choices he's made. He will be able to sleep at night, and he'll have made peace with himself, and the media, and the fans of the school that he may not have graduated from, but he played football at. He'll be okay with the tremendous scrutiny he suffered as he moved onto the world of professional sports, and all of the decisions both smart and poor he will have made with the resulting payoff. He will have moved on with his life.
But then, he'll see them.
Right there, as he reaches for the toothbrush, he'll see those damn tattoos. No matter where he goes in life, and no matter what he does with his God-given talents, those tattoos will follow him to the farthest reaches of the earth. Those permanently inked stains of skin, up to and including that iconic Block "O" that symbolizes the very school he painfully severed ties with (and perhaps later sold down the river in a tantalizing ESPN the Magazine tell-all), will be there looking back at him. When he gets married, they will be beneath his suit. When he cradles his firstborn son, they will be there in the pictures. When he reaches out in forgiveness or humility, they will be there. They will remain as permanent and all-encompassing stamps of his life.
And no matter where he goes, or what he does for the rest of his days on the great green Earth, he will be defined by them.
Life is about decisions, kids. And decisions are about the rest of your life.
There was an episode of The Twilight Zone in 1961. At the outset, we are introduced to a Mr. Hector B. Poole — played by the original Durwood from Bewitched — who is on his way in to work when he tosses a coin into a newsie's cashbox. The coin stands on its end, and stays that way. Instantly, Mr. Hector B. Poole can hear everyone's unspoken thoughts. A loan manager at a bank, Poole that day saves the outlet from a disastrous loan default when he 'hears' a respected businessman tell himself he's going to take the ostensible business loan and go gambling with it. By workday's end, Poole 'hears' his boss's plans to meet up with his young squeeze on the side, and Poole shrewdly blackmails him into giving him a big promotion. After leaving the office triumphantly, Poole tosses another coin into the same newsie's cashbox — and knocks over the coin that had been on its edge all day. Hector B. Poole can no longer read minds.
"One time in a million, a coin will land on its edge," series creator and narrator Rod Serling says in the epilogue. "But all it takes to knock it over is a vagrant breeze, a vibration or a slight blow. Hector B. Poole — a human coin, on edge for a brief time ... in The Twilight Zone."
This classic episode came to mind at some point near the end of the Troy Smith years of the Jim Tressel era at Ohio State. Maybe it was during the first half of the 2006 showdown, when Smith was as by-god good as any college quarterback I'd ever seen. Again. For the third time. I think that was when it first occurred that Tressel's two best quarterbacks to that point — Craig Krenzel and Smith — were flukes. Neither got his big chance because Tressel figured he was the best quarterback at the start of his breakthrough season. Or, in Krenzel's case, even the second best.
But this incredible string of luck for Tressel didn't end there. Right up until the past couple of months, when it came to his quarterbacks, Tressel was Hector B. Poole. He threw a coin into the quarterback cashbox in November 2001, and it stood on its side for the next 10 years. To wit:
In Tressel's first year, 2001, all Buckeye fans were over-the-moon ecstatic after the autumn press conference at which the then most-heralded HS QB in Ohio history, Justin Zwick, announced he was Columbus bound. All Tressel and OSU had to do was get through the rest of the miserable 2001 season with inconsistent, mistake-prone senior Steve Bellisari at QB, then Zwick would take over in 2002 — because, the belief went, the cupboard was empty at QB after Bellisari. And this kid Zwick was as can't-miss as they come.
Some 10 days before the 2001 Michigan game, Bellisari was caught DUI on campus and suspended for the next two games. Scott McMullen, the backup, started the penultimate regular-season game against Illinois and was terrible. Clipboard-holidng 3rd stringer, Craig Krenzel, was given a chance as Illinois was blowing out the Buckeyes in Ohio Stadium. He fared a bit better. With Bellisari still suspended, Krenzel got the start the next week in Ann Arbor. We all know what happened then. Krenzel does his thing, is surprisingly efficient and accurate and avoids the big mistakes — ie, Tressel-ball — and a star is born. If Bellisari never had driven drunk, odds are Krenzel never does anything but hold a clipboard or motion in signals for the rest of his Ohio State football career.
Yet come fall 2002, many OSU fans still want the phenom Zwick to start right out of the gate, but Tressel finally goes with the junior Krenzel. We all know what happened in 2002. Krenzel plays solidly if not ever spectacularly, but is amazingly clutch at the right times, and the Bucks go 14-0 and win the national title.
Krenzel of course is QB for his senior year too in 2003, but gets outplayed by John Navarre in the big 100th Big One showdown in Ann Arbor.
Come fall 2004, Buckeye Nation anxiously awaits for the Zwick era to, at last, gloriously begin. One problem. He's terrible. He's big, lumbersome (6-4, 225), not very accurate and surprisingly weak-armed. Tressel, though, still thinks Zwick gives OSU the best chance to win in 2004. Zwick gets OSU off to a stumbling 3-3 start, including losses at Northwestern and an absolute blowout loss at night at Iowa. Buckeye Nation wolves are out, in force. Was 2002 just a one-season fluke? Is Tressel over his head? The Great God Tressel panics. With Zwick dinged up, Tressel decides to bench him come November, and installs a completely new offense late in the season, behind a new QB — a desperate gamble to do such a thing late in the year, as observers of Michigan's defense the past three seasons can attest. Tressel replaces Zwick with little-known backup QB Troy Smith, who had been only an after-thought 3-star 'athlete' recruit in Zwick's 2002 class. Smith was so much an after-thought all through 2002 and 2003 that, with no chance of playing, he would admit later he was seldom focusing on football and was always getting into trouble, and indeed was out partying with Santonio Holmes in the night-club incident the week of the 2003 Michigan game, which compelled The Great Punisher Tressel to bench Holmes, his best offensive player, for an entire series (!) in Ann Arbor.
Back to Nov 2004. In his first start, Troy Smith looks good vs MSU (what QB didn't that year), but looks terrible in a loss at Purdue the next week. Now Michigan, undefeated in conference play and 9-1 overall behind its over-achieving true-frosh QB Chad Henne, comes to Ohio State. We all know what happened next. Smith does the Denard Notre Dame 2010 thing in 2004, in 2005 and in 2006. Tressel and Ohio State grab the M-OSU series, Ohio recruiting and the entire Big Ten all by the jugular.
The coin was still on its side when, with Troy Smith finally gone, Todd Boeckman led Ohio State to the 2007 Big Ten showdown game in Ann Arbor, Carr's last game as head coach in Michigan Stadium. Boeckman plays so awfully in the first half, Tressel is scared to throw at all in the second half. But because Michigan is so inept on offense, Tressel decides he can afford to play it as conservatively as Bo or Woody with a 4-point lead in 1973 and thus sits on a 7-3 lead with nothing but conservative running plays. It works. 14-3 final.
Then the Terrelle Pryor era, come 2008. And yet three more painful Michigan losses to Ohio State.
Think of what might have happened had Bellisari not driven drunk back in Nov 2001. He'd have got the nod at QB in Ann Arbor, when Michigan was playing for the outright BIg Ten title and Sugar Bowl berth (with the Rose rented out for the BCS title game). Bellisari would have probably done what he always did — mixed good plays with terrible ones, and as likely as not UM would have won and gone to the Sugar instead of Illinois, a team UM had crushed in September. It would have been Lloyd's fourth Big Ten title in five years. And Tressel would have been lampooned for having given his unfulfilled "you'll be especially proud in Ann Arbor" speech. What's more, the pressure to start Zwick at the beginning of the 2002 season would have been immense — especially after not having ever taken the clipboard out of Craig Krenzel's hands to see what he could do in real time. And with a true-frosh at QB in 2002, let alone one as mediocre as Zwick, there's no conceivable way that OSU would have won the Big Ten in 2002, let alone gone 14-0 and won the national title.
So, was Ohio State's great run through the Troy Smith years a result of great coaching, or incredibly great fortune?
Until late last year, I'd been telling anyone who would listen for four years that Tressel had WAYYY overdrawn from the Bank of Good QB Fortune, and that a major correction just had — just had — to be around the corner soon. My friends, and I'm sure Brian, got tired of me saying it. I'd kind of forgotten about the whole thing until today. I wasn't expecting The Great Leveller to come in the form of NCAA rules-breaking shenanigans by Tressel to protect his — tada!!!!! — star QB, Terrelle Pryor. But that's how it went down. It all evens out in the end, friends.
Today, the coin finally fell over.
Hector B. Tressel — a human coin, on edge for a brief time ... in The Twilight Zone.
As odd as it may seem the 2012 class is already starting to get to the point where fans speculate on who fits where and how many spots are left. The offensive line is a big priority in this class and with two commitments on board the coaching staff is likely looking for 2-4 more. Here's a look at some of the prospects Michigan has a chance with and a few other notes.
6'6", 280 lbs.
Meador is a four star offensive lineman, ranked 241st overall in the country by Rivals. He holds offers from Indiana, Kentucky, Louisville, Ole Miss, and Northern Illinois. He has also started to hear more from the Michigan coaches.
Coach Borges came down to my school a few weeks ago. He said they really like me and when they get back from spring recruiting they will discuss offering me. If they invite me up to take a visit then that's when they'll offer.
Jake lives relatively close by, but says he isn't too familiar with the Michigan program or Ann Arbor.
I don't know too much about them, but if they were to offer I would be interested. I would like to make a decision mid to late June. If they offer then I'll try to get up whenever I can.
We'll see what the coaches say about an offer, or if they ask him to camp. He says he wants to make his decision by June, but that could change if other programs start to show interest as well.
6'5", 275 lbs.
Thurston took a trip to Ann Arbor just a few weeks ago and came away very impressed. It seems like his recruitment is starting to wind down now.
I'm probably going to make my decision in July or August. I'll probably see what happens in the next few weeks then maybe take one or two more visits. After that I'll narrow my list down in June and make my decision from there.
Paul has a great offer list including Arizona, Cal, Arkansas, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Oregon, Stanford, and UCLA among others. I think Michigan has a good chance here, but he keeps everything very close to the vest. I would be surprised if Michigan didn't make his top list, but anything can happen.
6'6", 275 lbs.
Magnuson is a four star offensive tackle who is ranked 34th overall in the country by Rivals. He holds an impressive offer list that includes Michigan, Cal, Miami, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Oregon, Stanford and others.
He told me back in March how great of a relationship he has with the Michigan coaches from their days at SDSU. He went so far as to call offensive line coach Darrell Funk, "The man." The original plan was to come out to Ann Arbor for an official visit, but that plan has changed.
I'm coming out [to Michigan] on June 10th. I'm really strongly considering them so I want to get out there and see it. They have a couple good 2012 commits, and I know the coaches really well, so I really like them.
Erik also recently told me that Michigan was in his top three with two other schools to be named later. Michigan has a very good chance with Magnuson, and the fact that he moved his visit up to June is a really big deal for them. Just something to keep an eye on.
6'5", 220 lbs.
Camp Hill, Pennsylvania
Michigan already has a commitment for the 2013 class, so it's not too early to talk about it. Breneman is a 2013 prospect that already has offers from Alabama, Boston College, Maryland, Notre Dame, Rutgers, and now Michigan.
I hadn't heard anything from Michigan until last weekend when my coach informed me that they were coming to my school to offer me. I went to a game at the Big House with my family a couple years ago and was impressed. I'll decide soon if if's a place that I want to visit this summer. They'll definitely be a school that will get consideration.
It seems so early, but since he is already wracking up the offers he's already started in with his recruiting process and will evaluate schools this summer.
I don't want to say I'm going to narrow my list this summer, because I don't plan on doing that for some time. I am more going to decide which five to eight schools I want to visit. I want to learn more about some programs.
Plenty of time for Adam to figure everything out and it seems like Michigan is a place that intrigues him. We'll see if they get a visit or not.
In case you missed it last week, New York DB Wayne Morgan has moved his decision date to June 2nd instead of June 1st. There's no set time yet, but he plans on telling all the coaches of his decision first. I will hopefully have some film of Wayne from a camp this past weekend posted soon.
California DT Aziz Shittu is still committed to Stanford but told me there's a good chance he will still end up taking an official visit to Michigan.
Illinois OL Jordan Diamond tweeted that he will be moving his decision date up. He wants to take a few more visits, but has been canceling the most recent [Wisconsin & Auburn]. He told me it will likely come before his first game of the season. Michigan is in good shape.
A new name to potentially keep an eye on, and to go along with the offensive linemen theme is Oregon OL Isaac Seumalo (6'3", 280 lbs). Seumalo is good friends with Cali OL Erik Magnuson, and while he doesn't currently have an offer the Michigan coaches are aware of him. He is a four star and ranked 175th overall in the country by Rivals.
Upcoming visits include: New York DT Jarron Jones [I will have more on him next week] is planning a trip for June 10th, Ohio DB Allen Gant should be visiting in the next few weeks and that is something to keep an eye on, Illinois DB Anthony Standifer is trying to plan a visit in the next few weeks so his dad can make the trip. Ohio tandem Adolphus Washington and Dwayne Stanford had to reschedule their visit from this past weekend. They haven't set the date yet.
Washington OL Joshua Garnett says he wants to take an official visit to Michigan.
If you missed last week's Weekly Update, you can find it here.
For the first time in approximately forever, the Wolverines do not have a new commit. Action since last rankings:
5-22-11 Indiana gains commitment from Dion Witty.
5-24-11 Indiana loses commitment from Dion Witty. Also: HALOL.
5-26-11 Notre Dame gains commitment from CJ Prosise.
5-27-11 Notre Dame gains commitment from Deontay Greenberry.
|Big Ten+ Recruiting Class Rankings|
|Rank||School||# Commits||Rivals Avg||Scout Avg||ESPN Watchlist||24/7 Avg|
Rivals has released their initial rankings, so instead of watchlist guys, I'm going on the 5-star system for them. Remember, currently-unranked prospects by any service receive 1 star.
Full data after the jump.
|#1 Michigan - 12 Commits|
Michigan has the largest class in the league, and their averages will be helped bigtime when Rivals and 24/7 finally get around to ranking the rest of their prospects. Wolverines hoping for more commits very soon.
|#2 Ohio State - 7 Commits|
No change for Ohio State.
|#3 Penn State - 8 Commits|
No change for Penn State.
|#4 Notre Dame - 9 Commits|
Though the Irish pick up two commits, they still have lower averages than Penn State, and inertia keeps them behind for now.
|#5 Wisconsin - 4 Commits|
No change for Wisconsin.
|#6 Minnesota - 3 Commits|
No change for Minnesota.
|#7 Northwestern - 4 Commits|
Wildcats barely ahead of Michigan State.
|#8 Michigan State - 4 Commits|
No change for MSU. Another instate prospect with a Spartan offer has picked Michigan.
|#9 Nebraska - 2 Commits|
|#10 Illinois - 2 Commits|
Nothing new for Illini.
|#11 Purdue - 1 Commit|
No change for the Boilers.
|#12-t Iowa - 1 Commit|
No change for Iowa.
The Hoosiers finally joined the commitment party, but Dion Witty decommitted within two days of pledging to Indiana.
The most recent tidbit from the Associated Press indicates that the battle over public records is just beginning to heat up. The AP noted that it received some public records in response to its requests, and as you could imagine they are fairly boring documents (performance reviews of Doug Archie, etc.). OSU also refused to turn over many other records and expressed its concern for student privacy. I have little doubt that the most problematic emails were not handed over to the AP.
The AP is one of many news organizations seeking public documents from the university. I’ve counted no less than five FOIA requests for Tressel and OSU Athletic Department emails (I say “FOIA” for simplicity’s sake, because in Ohio it’s the Open Records Act that applies to state bodies). Here’s the breakdown of the media organizations and the scope of their known FOIA requests:
- Yahoo Sports: phone and email records of Tressel and other OSU Athletic Department administrators
- Columbus Dispatch: emails between Tressel and Sarniak
- ESPN: according to Sportsbybrooks.com, these include Tressel emails
- Sports Illustrated: according to Sportsbybrooks.com, these include Tressel emails
And now we can add the Associated Press to the mix. As of now, it appears the AP is the first of these to receive any documents in response (although the rumors circulating about an impending story from Sports Illustrated might suggest that SI also received some responses to FOIA requests recently).
OSU's recent document production to the AP, although seemingly sparse, provides some insight into the battle over public documents that has quietly been brewing for months.
Takeaway #1: OSU has started producing documents
With the sort of comprehensive FOIA requests received by OSU months ago, a school does not respond immediately like it might for a simple request for a single document. Instead, it can take weeks or months for OSU to have IT personnel retrieve emails, and then have attorneys and administrators review them to see (1) if they are responsive to the request, (2) whether OSU is legally required to produce, and (3) what needs to be redacted.
What usually happens in highly charged situations like this is that the least interesting documents come out first. Then both sides (the school and the media) exchange nasty, threatening letters. If OSU doesn’t blink, then the media organization can file a lawsuit in Ohio state court if it believes it was improperly denied documents.
In the near term, I would expect more of these half-hearted document productions by the university. I would also expect more bland stories, based on documents produced by OSU, which are ultimately tangential to the heart of the unfolding controversy.
In the long term, well ... that depends on who wins the legal battle.
Takeaway #2: The battle is over student privacy
The Associated Press sought through a public records request any emails, notes or other information about the relationship between Jeannette, Pa., businessman Ted Sarniak and Pryor, who has been suspended for the first five games this fall for taking improper benefits from a Columbus tattoo-parlor owner.
In an email on Friday, Ohio State's Office of Legal Affairs declined to release the records because it said doing so would mean giving up information without the student's consent.
Over the last couple years, we’ve had discussions on this blog about how FOIA requests are affected by student privacy. The main law in question is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a federal statute that prevents schools, including universities, from revealing student information without the student’s consent. Like any statute, it contains exceptions and can be complex to apply to a given situation like the one at hand.
Ohio’s Open Records Act, like Michigan’s FOIA, states that you may not seek public records that are protected under FERPA, i.e. records that reveal personal information about an identifiable student (such as Terrelle Pryor). If you are able to redact the student’s name and release the document, and if the student is not identifiable through the context of the document, then you still must produce the document (assuming no other FOIA exception applies).
I wasn’t planning on doing an in-depth analysis of FERPA in this post, but suffice to say that one of the media’s biggest problems right now is that too much of the Tresselgate situation is already public. In many cases, an informed person would be able to determine, by looking at the context of a particular email, which student is involved.
As explained above, however, the answer on FERPA is by no means clear. The analysis would differ for each email. And after some searching, there are few, if any court opinions in Ohio to provide guidance on how the Open Records Act interacts with FERPA in the context of situations like this.
Takeaway #3: OSU is playing hardball
The general crappiness and irrelevance of the documents retrieved by the AP signals to me that OSU is handing over very little. The school is challenging the AP to keep fighting.
Takeaway #4: The fight will continue
The fact that the AP actually published a story about Doug Archie’s 2009 performance evaluation means that this topic is gold to the media. If this non-story gets major national press, imagine what the AP could expect from a story about Sarniak emails?
What to Expect from the Legal Battle
The major news organizations keep good counsel. They are national media who are not afraid to spend thousands of dollars on attorneys’ fees while chasing a front-page story. They will argue the ins and outs of FERPA and any other exceptions to which OSU is no doubt clinging for dear life.
There are a handful of attorneys (probably less than that) who work for big law firms, charge high fees, and specialize in getting public records from Ohio government bodies. They are very talented at their craft. They know the usual tricks, and they will employ all appropriate countermeasures if they have financial backing. I trust ESPN has enough $$$ to cover a retainer.
If it wanted to, Ohio State could probably string this FOIA deal along for several more months. If that happens, a court case will ensue, brought perhaps by a collection of media (to share the cost of legal fees), or possibly by the one or two most inclined to fight. A judge will probably view the records in his or her chambers to see if the exceptions apply. And then the court will make its ruling. Since this will most likely happen in state court in Columbus, one may wonder whether the elected judge will dare rule against OSU. But any ruling could be appealed to an higher court still within Ohio but with less localized sensitivities. Once again, more months of waiting.
In addition to the easily predictable media fallout from shady emails, here’s where it could get hairy for OSU. According to Gene Smith’s press conference when this news first broke, the university worked with the NCAA to conduct an expeditious one-month investigation into the Cicero emails. Naturally, it behooves OSU for the investigation to be quick, since it leaves more stones unturned. If OSU ever attempted to game the system, the game was to feign cooperation with the investigation but, in reality, drag its heels for one month and drain the clock.
What happens if OSU is forced to produce emails in response to the FOIA requests that its one-month investigation with the NCAA failed to discover? If you were the NCAA investigator on campus in February 2011, and you never ran across the “Sarniak forward,” wouldn’t you have been peeved when it splashed across the headlines? Wouldn’t you question whether Ohio State had really been forthcoming in its ostensibly cooperative investigation? And wouldn’t you then commence to drop the hammer?
Armageddon slowly but deliberately approaches the outskirts of Columbus. The truly juicy documents are still sitting on Gene Smith’s desk, and they may someday see the light of day. And guess what: in the wake of the auto dealership revelations, the Ray Small comments, and other details that have steadily trickled out, I have no doubt OSU’s stack of FOIA requests is growing by the week.
Edit: Follow-Up on Impending SI Article
Word on the street is that a game-changing Sports Illustrated article is coming out this Tuesday. My guess is that it doesn't include any public documents that are clear and standalone bombshells (like an email from Tressel to Gene Smith saying "Hey these kids are violating NCAA rules, but let's just cover it up"). I don't think OSU, even if it were to release such a document, would release it this soon.
My GUESS is that the article will be a mixture of traditional investigative journalism coupled with focused FOIA requests. These would have to be the type of requests that don't seem important to OSU (thus meaning that OSU had no problem turning them over), but combined with a comprehensive media investigation those documents provided important corroborating evidence and form part of a bigger mosaic.
Or maybe OSU was careless enough to turn over the bombshell email. Who knows? I'm excited though ...
Michigan now has 12 commitments in its 2012 football recruiting class, currently (by at least one measure) the top class in the Big Ten.
That #1 ranking is partly real, partly artificial. What’s real is that Brady Hoke has recruited some pretty good football players. What’s artificial is that no other Big Ten school has more than eight commits, and nine teams in the conference have four or fewer. That obviously won’t last.
When Michigan has 12 commits and Nebraska just 2, you can’t really say that Michigan is out-recruiting Nebraska. All you can say is that the Cornhuskers must not be particularly eager to get kids to commit this early. (I have no doubt that if the ’Huskers wanted them sooner, they could have them.)
The strategy of accepting so many early commitments has advantages and disadvantages. Clearly it tells the story that Hoke and his team are ace recruiters. When you haven’t coached a game yet, it’s about the only way you can show the world how good you are. It also makes positive news for a program that hasn’t had much of it lately. Nobody needs to be persuaded that great players will go to Nebraska. At Michigan, you couldn’t take that for granted anymore after three bad years.
Tactically, the strategy could push wavering players to commit sooner, fearing that if they don’t their spot in the class might at some point be no longer available. But the players you attract that way are probably not the very best ones. I never heard of a school that couldn’t find room for a five-star athlete (who was academically qualified). Obviously, every commitment takes the player away from other potential suitors, although only loosely, since other schools can still recruit the player between now and signing day.
It feels good to be cleaning Michigan State’s clock on the recruiting trail. But it also says a lot about the current state of Wolverine football that we even care. Five years ago, nobody worried about whether Michigan would have a better recruiting class than the perennial middle-tier team in East Lansing. It was simply a given—something like a sell-out at the Big House, that we hardly ever thought about, because it was expected.
The strategy could also have drawbacks. Michigan has made hundreds of offers for 2012, and it can accept no more than 20–25 (depending on the number of scholarships ultimately available). Every spot you fill early is a spot not available later on, either for players who don’t want to decide this early, or for players off the radar who might make a jump in their senior seasons. Likewise, players who look great based on junior-season film might regress as seniors.
It would be interesting to study whether there is any measurable advantage to accepting commitments early vs. waiting until the fall. A look through the Rivals database shows that there is a pretty wide variance among the elite programs. For instance, Alabama currently has 12 (same as Michigan), but Auburn has only 5. There are two widely different strategies there.
(I am assuming that no player with a chance at attending an elite program rushes to commit to Indiana or Vanderbilt, but that there are plenty who would eagerly commit at places like Auburn and Oregon, to the extent the coaches want them so soon.)
One would think, offhand, that you take the commitments of a four- and five-star kids whenever you can get them, since those players (when correctly rated) are the ones that usually go on to be multi-year starters, NFL draft picks, and so forth. That would also apply to the three-star or unrated kids whom you believe very strongly that the recruiting services got wrong. For a correctly-rated mid-level three-star, the advantages of getting an early commitment aren’t as clear. At that level, players are much more plentiful, and schools like Michigan should be more choosy.
I don’t claim to have the answer, nor am I uncomfortable with Hoke’s strategy. He’s a proven recruiter at places like Ball State and SDSU that are much harder to sell, and in the absence of more concrete data I’ll assume he’s getting it right. I do think it’s a point worthy of further research.