Ohio State put the finishing touches on another excellent recruiting class last night, grabbing their fourth top 10 class in a row, and missed grabbing their fourth top 5 class consecutively by a hair. Ohio State dominated the rest of the Big Ten not named Penn State, and still finished with the best class with plenty of room to spare. Fresh off a national championship, and with the 2016 class likely to compete for the nation's best, some other Big Ten fans have taken to wondering how Ohio State does it.
One thing they've noticed? Ohio State signs more players than the rest of the conference.
Per the 247Sports Composite, Ohio State has signed 99 players in the last four recruiting classes, with every single class being at least 23 kids. For comparison's sake, Nebraska brought in 88, Michigan State 83, Michigan 82 and Wisconsin 80 over that same cycle. The fact that this happened while Ohio State was still under scholarship restrictions (82 instead of 85) led some fans (rival and in-house alike) to openly wonder, "How is this happening?" "Surely it's cheating, right?", "Classic Urban Meyer", and the like.
We noted before signing day that based on how Ohio State's roster was currently constructed, they'd only have room to take 22 or 23 kids, and they ended up signing 27. Is this the dreaded "oversigning" that so many Big Ten fans condemned the SEC for doing for so long?
Here's the thing: There is nothing illegal about what Ohio State is doing. It isn't unethical. And it honestly isn't even that big a deal.
Being a few players over the 85 scholarship limit the day after national signing day isn't uncommon at all. Ohio State isn't even the only team in the Big Ten currently in that situation. Coaches know more about potential roster turnover and churn than fans do, and have to recruit accordingly.
During Ohio State's press conference following yesterday, Urban Meyer alluded to potential career ending injuries to Armani Reeves, Ron Tanner, and Devan Bogard. Lest any skeptical fan clamor that these are trumped up injuries, Reeves was a highly regarded regular contributor who would been playing if he hadn't missed games due to concussions last season, and Tanner and Bogard, both special teams contributors, have torn ACLs multiple times. They did not suffer minor ailments and were then pushed into hanging it up against their wishes.
Player churn happens. In Ohio State's 25 man class in 2012, 12 players either medically retired, transferred, or otherwise left the school. Three-star linebacker Luke Roberts left early in his Ohio State career ... to get his education and play football at Harvard. Four-star offensive lineman Joey O'Connor left to be closer to home in Colorado, and then later quit football altogether. Five-star all-everything Noah Spence was suspended indefinitely by the Big Ten for failing multiple drug tests. All of that is part of college football, and that leaves additional roster holes that need to be filled. That's not unprecedented for Ohio State.
So why do so many people leave? Lots of reasons. Some run afoul of team rules (or the law), and are kicked off the team. Some leave in pursuit of more playing time, a reasonable problem given how well Ohio State has recruited at virtually every position. A few players who don't have NFL prospects quit to focus 100% on school. Others leave to be closer to home. The reasons Ohio State football players transfer are as varied as the reasons that anybody transfers from a college. On the surface, there is nothing wrong with that.
The ethical concerns about oversigning occur when the decision for a player to leave a program is not made by the student, or if a student is promised a spot in a recruiting class, only to have it pulled if the school is able to find somebody better, which has happened recently at other schools.
There is no evidence that Urban Meyer and Ohio State have done this. In fact, given that Meyer has been a rather passionate and public advocate on behalf of student-athletes, it would undermine his message if he or his staff were unscrupulously cutting kids or pulling offers for purely football reasons. We hear a lot of stuff that goes on with Ohio State's program, but we haven't heard this.
The Big Ten allows schools to sign as many as 28 players in a class, so long as they keep the league informed of their roster management and can prove that nobody is getting kicked out. Ohio State has never gone that high (although they have signed 27 in their most recent class in fact), and given that they are expecting some players to leave early for the NFL Draft after next season, another class in the 26-27 range is certainly not off the table.
If the roster math is right, Ohio State is still two players over the scholarship limit. It's possible another player retires due to injury concerns. We won't speculate as to the specifics, but a glance at the depth chart at certain positions would make you think that a transfer is conceivable. It's possible that somebody will get in trouble over the offseason and get thrown off the team. Over the long offseason, Ohio State should eventually be at 85, or below, without resorting to anything ethically dubious.
Ohio State has not grayshirted anybody -- not since Jim Tressel of all people.
"At first, I wondered if (Ohio State) really wanted me," the player in question, former Ohio State starting quarterback Todd Boeckman told the Denver Post. "But I talked to a lot of people and thought grayshirting was the best thing for me."
Louisville drew ire for asking a player to grayshirt two days before National Signing Day, leaving him little recourse if he wanted to try and sign somewhere on the day itself (which commits are under no obligation other than tradition to do so).
The Buckeyes under Urban Meyer haven't done anything like either of these. They haven't kicked anybody off the team. And when or if they do, we'll be right there clamoring about how those moves aren't right and shouldn't be celebrated regardless of the edge they can provide.
But for now, this looks like another example of excellent recruiting and proactive roster management from Ohio State. Rather than complain about it, perhaps other rival schools would be will served to step things on their end.