The traditional National Letter of Intent Day in February was essentially a non-event for Ohio State, as the Buckeyes signed their 20-player class back during the early signing period in December. Even Ohio State joked about it with two tweets sent out during the morning of Feb. 1 (note the time difference between the first and second tweet).
Signing day 2023❕Looking forward to a great day❕— Ohio State Football (@OhioStateFB) February 1, 2023
Signing day is now complete Go Bucks!— Ohio State Football (@OhioStateFB) February 1, 2023
While Ohio State did not announce any new recruits on Feb. 1, members of the Buckeyes’ coaching staff, as well as associate athletic director/general manager of player personnel leader Mark Pantoni, did speak to the local media. It is with Pantoni’s comments in mind that I will lay out three goals for Ohio State’s 2024 recruiting efforts.
- A clearly defined limit on NIL for Ohio State
Down the homestretch of the early signing period, social media was abuzz with challenges Ohio State was facing with recruits being offered more money than what the Buckeyes were willing to offer. Mark Pantoni acknowledged these challenges this week, saying, “NIL isn’t what it was intended to be...”
Perhaps I am in the minority of Ohio State fans on this sentiment, but I am pleased with the direction that the program seems to be taking with regards to NIL. Pantoni further added that Ohio State’s approach is designed and built around, “Guys that have really earned their namesake through their play on the field. And now with their name, image and likeness, they’re able to capitalize on that. And I think that a place like Ohio State, located in the 15th largest city in the country, with the power of this brand and the fanbase, our guys are cashing in right now because of that. So that’s what it was meant to be. And we’re glad that they’re having that opportunity.”.
Does that mean Ohio State may miss out on some higher-rated talent signing elsewhere, because the Buckeyes are not willing to up the ante? Certainly. But let me ask you something: Would you rather have a player willing to put the necessary work in both on and off the field, then reward them monetarily, or pay upfront with no guarantee that the results will be worth the investment?
If you are reading this and believing that I am being naive about the new ways of the college football world in this matter, just look at how NIL has impacted programs such as Texas A&M, or Florida. Improperly handling NIL can create a cancerous environment within a locker room.
Ohio State is still in the process of learning how to navigate this new aspect of college football. I am optimistic that the Buckeyes will continue to get better at addressing NIL going forward, especially with the 2024 recruiting class. And to that point...
2. Focus on Ohio or Midwest talent vs. national approach to recruiting
Pantoni conceded the impact NIL will have on Ohio State’s efforts in his Feb. 1 comments, saying, “We may have to pull out of recruiting some guys nationally, quicker than we would have if we know right away that NIL is going to be a main factor in the recruitments.”
Even if NIL was not a factor, I have long argued that the Buckeyes should be bringing in more talent from Ohio and the other Midwest areas, versus going all over the country.
Again, it may seem naive to some of you on this point, but ask yourself in the context of the transfer portal of today, when players can leave at a moment’s notice and go elsewhere: Will a player from Ohio or the Midwest be more likely to stick it out at Ohio State, or a player from California, Texas, or Florida?
As I write this, it is a balmy 30 degrees outside. Again, when a player is buried on the depth chart, and is homesick, do you think the Ohio player will be able to stick it out, or the player from California, Texas, Florida, etc?
Former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel had a successful run focused predominantly on Ohio players. The national recruiting focus that former Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer embraced was certainly successful, but may not be what the Buckeyes need in today’s era of NIL and the transfer portal. Maybe a “Tresselized” approach to recruiting will help for both NIL and the transfer portal. And that leads me to my final point...
3. Emphasize The Ohio State “Brotherhood” in recruiting efforts
The Jan. 27 news that former Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis was returning to Columbus as a graduate assistant on the defensive coaching staff was widely celebrated by Ohio State fans everywhere. Laurinaitis was among the coaching staff members who met with the media this week.
Back to the Brotherhood pic.twitter.com/ZC0TeWS8tC— Ohio State Football (@OhioStateFB) January 27, 2023
In his comments to the media, Laurinaitis pointed out his experiences as a Buckeye should help the current players under his tutelage, saying, “It’s a lot more natural when it’s somewhere you’ve played, and Ohio State sells itself... But when you have someone that’s been in it, walked through it, gone through the same stresses... I can relate to a lot of these young men and what they’re going through. And I can help kids who haven’t been here. Giving them an absolute honest perspective on what it’s like to play here.”
Leveraging the experiences of Laurinaitis, or offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach Brian Hartline, can only help Ohio State on the recruiting trail. These are examples of former players who succeeded on and off the field while at Ohio State, and are back at their alma mater to develop the new talent that is arriving to compete for the Buckeyes in 2023 and beyond.
A refocused NIL strategy, a focus more on Ohio/Midwest talent, and leveraging the experiences of former players — all could pay dividends for the 2024 recruiting efforts.