Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, left, and Ohio State coach Urban Meyer.
CHICAGO -- Urban Meyer this week called his dispute with Wisconsin's Bret Bielema in February a simple misunderstanding.
But for the first-year Ohio State coach, it did not feel that way six months ago.
While Meyer said he now has a "very, very good relationship" with Bielema, emails obtained by The Blade show he was irate at his Wisconsin counterpart.
On Feb. 2, OSU director of player personnel Mark Pantoni forwarded Meyer the Sporting News story headlined, "Urban's 'illegal' recruiting tactics a big issue for Bielema, Big Ten." Bielema indirectly accused Meyer of unethically recruiting prospects committed to other Big Ten schools, though he declined to specify an NCAA violation.
"I can tell you this," Bielema told The Sporting News. "We in the Big Ten don't want to be like the SEC -- in any way, shape or form."
Meyer sent Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany an email about an hour after the story appeared online.
"Jim, just received copy of Sporting News article where Wisc coach took serious shot at SEC and myself and our staff," Meyer wrote Delany in a message obtained through an open records request. "Not sure where or why this has become a National story. Obviously, there is no truth to his damaging comments. ... I would expect that the Big Ten Conference take immediate action and ask Wisc coach to apologize to myself and our staff.
"There was a brief phone call made by me to Wisc coach in December. He said he heard something about one of our asst coaches. I checked it out and there was no truth (I think it was about a former player calling a recruit). Regardless, I will have to release a statement soon to make sure that this type of negativity is dealt with."
The coaches reached an accord the next day at the Big Ten meetings. Meyer said he and Bielema "get along fine."
But the Big Ten media days this week proved the coaching soap opera rarely stays off air for long.
On the same day Meyer again defended his recruiting -- "There's absolutely no problem whatsoever with the way Ohio State does its business," he said -- another first-year coach came under fire.
Illinois' Tim Beckman nudged into the center of the growing debate on what is fair game in poaching players from Penn State.
Beckman and seven members of his staff made a recruiting trip to State College this week after the NCAA floored Penn State with unprecedented sanctions in response to the school's child sex abuse scandal. With PSU players free to transfer without restriction to other programs, including those in the Big Ten, Illini coaches invited "some" players to meet them off campus.
"If they wanted to come by, it was their opportunity to come by," said Beckman, who spent the past three seasons at Toledo.
The foray into State College was widely viewed as unseemly. While NCAA president Mark Emmert on Monday said he hoped the penalties handed to Penn State would help reshape the win-at-all-costs culture of major college football, the episode only seemed to underscore the cutthroat modern landscape.
In the Big Ten, coaches eyeing Penn State players effectively must weigh improving their team against the prospect of torching bridges.
Asked if he worried a conference school foraying into State College would damage relationships, Big Ten commissioner Delany said, "Yes, I do."
Earlier this week, Nittany Lions cornerback Adrian Amos posted on Twitter: "We have chosen to stay at Penn State and opposing coaches are outside our apartment, was that the intention of the NCAA? #comeonman."
Though no coaches mentioned a specific offender, Meyer and others took issue with a school reaching out to a college player -- not vice versa.
"I have a problem with that," Meyer said. "I have a problem with that."
He added: "If someone reached out and called me up and said, 'I'm out of here and I've always wanted to come to Ohio State,' then -- and this is all about the player -- I'd visit [OSU athletic director] Gene Smith and say, 'What do you think we should do?' But our coaches are not calling Penn State players."
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said he watched Emmert's news conference Monday with his staff, then decided "in no way, shape or form are we going to pursue, contact or reach out to the Penn State University."
Michigan's Brady Hoke admitted he looked at Penn State's roster this week. "But," he said, "we've made a decision that we're going to stay and recruit [our] guys and keep our business our business."
Others left the door ajar. Purdue coach Danny Hope, for one, did not rule out making Penn State's business his business.
"As long as we're compliant, we're going to exercise every option to strengthen our football team," he said.
Consider it the latest plot twist in As the Big Ten Turns, where grudges come and go but the drama is constant.
Meyer learned this early as he made headlines for his ability to convince high school prospects to switch their commitments -- an accepted practice in college athletics -- including many recruits previously pledged to Big Ten schools.
On Feb. 2, he was unwilling to let Bielema's reported accusations and later comments from Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio go unaddressed.
Before the Big Ten coaches met on Feb. 3, a proposed statement from Meyer was sent to Smith. OSU officials planned to issue the release after the meetings.
"I was recently made aware of some inappropriate comments made by the Wisconsin and Michigan State coaches," Meyer said in the draft, which was never issued.
"I take offense at the references that any member of the Ohio State coaching staff or I did anything illegal or unethical. We will continue to comply with NCAA rules and recruit with relentless effort, especially the great state of Ohio. I would expect the Big Ten Conference to take whatever action necessary."
But the meeting appeared to go better than expected. Dantonio and Bielema both told Meyer their comments were taken out of context and coaches agreed there was no "gentleman's agreement" to avoid recruiting other schools' committed recruits.
Meyer said he now has a good working relationship with all of his Big Ten colleagues.
"Absolutely," he said. "I can't see it any other way. We had that in the SEC and we certainly have that in the Big Ten."
The message Ohio State ultimately released after the coaches meetings?
"We will continue to comply with NCAA rules and recruit with relentless effort, especially the great state of Ohio," Meyer said.
"I want to thank commissioner Delany for his insight and leadership, and at this point we all look forward to moving past this week and getting ready for the start of spring football."
Contact David Briggs at firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.
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