Big Ten football has been trying to clean up its own mess since its decision to postpone the 2020 season earlier this month. The move has made the conference look extremely foolish, to say the least. Not only have PJ Fleck, the Gophers, and every other team in the conference been scrambling to figure out how to get ready for a season they don’t know will ever start.
We also have players’ parents sending in letters and statements to the league, stating concerns. Some have even gone as far as traveling to Chicago to literally knock on the commissioner’s (office) door.
See ya “Early Friday Morning” We gotta Fight and we can’t let these young men FIGHT ALONE…. ALL BIG TEN FANS STAND UP…. pic.twitter.com/qjbaQVcRSX— Randy L Wade?%? [email protected]❌ℹLy….. (@gslsff) August 18, 2020
Yet the cancelation and subsequent anger within the Big Ten states and fan bases are only one part of the story. What many aren’t talking about, is recruiting and how coaches are juggling their incoming 2021 class amid all these moving parts. Most importantly, what is Minnesota head coach, PJ Fleck, doing to keep his commits’ oars in the water?
Sadly, the bitter reality: The Big Ten better hope the SEC, ACC and Big 12 eventually cancel fall football as well. If not, Big Ten is damaged in so many ways, financially, competitively, recruiting-wise, etc. Lots and lots of important people ticked off by the suddenness.— Bob Wojnowski (@bobwojnowski) August 12, 2020
IF the SEC, ACC and Big 12 play (and it’s a big if) and it is successful and with no problems, the recruiting fallout for the Big Ten will last for a decade— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) August 11, 2020
Mass Recruiting Exodus Unlikely
In all reality, a mass exodus of recruits from any Big Ten school is unlikely. These players, like Steven Ortiz, committed for reasons too big to die this easily. You’d sure hope it would take more than one season of no competition for incoming players to start defecting. Southern schools are still going to try their damndest…
One of Minnesota’s top commitments for the 2021 class, Steven Ortiz is already feeling the heat. It doesn’t seem to weigh on him though. Ortiz told me he isn’t going anywhere. The communication and trust he has in PJ Fleck and RTB culture shows.
“Schools try to talk to me, but I am 100% committed to Minnesota, and I let them know that… I am focused on my season right now and I hope those guys get to have a season.”
“I talk to coach Fleck all the time and he pretty much always tells me just to stay positive and control what I can control.”Steven Ortiz Jr.
From all accounts, Fleck has shown nothing but genuine care and interest in his players. That’s a trait that’s becoming even more crucial during this pandemic and shifting college football landscape.
Recruiting in the Future
While it may not hurt the Gophers on the recruiting trail in 2021, not playing football this year could impact PJ Fleck’s ability to recruit the south going forward. The Gophers haven’t been a national powerhouse since the 60’s but Fleck has still done a good job recruiting against helmet schools in the south.
Minnesota has pulled the likes of Rashod Bateman (GA), Daniel Faalele (FL) and Curtis Dunlap (FL) from the area in recent years. Those individuals may not have been the five-stars more established schools attract, but to pull southern four-stars to Minnesota when nobody down there even knows we exist, is a feat in itself.
So how does the Big Ten’s postponement impact the Gopher’s future? According to 247Sports Composite Ratings from Southern states, the Gophers rank only behind Nebraska for Big Ten West schools who most often lure Top-1000 recruits up from the south.
Top 1000 National Recruits from Southern States in Big Ten West (2018-2021)
Fleck has made clear how important recruiting the south is. If the Big Ten isn’t playing football and southern universities are, Fleck’s footprint in football country could shrink…. but I don’t see it.
Flecknotized recruits are likely to see through the “Minnesota doesn’t care about football” charade, even years from now. Yes, the decision to postpone hits hard but if the University of Minnesota didn’t care about athletics (especially football), Fleck wouldn’t be the head coach and Mark Coyle wouldn’t be Athletic Director. The team also wouldn’t be primed to build off their 11-2 record in 2019.
Not the End of the World
This is not the end of the world for the Big Ten or the University of Minnesota football program…. at least not yet. If the pandemic takes a prolonged time to end and the conference doesn’t make better decisions leading into the 2021 season, then all bets are off. But as of right now, Fleck’s constant positive energy should be enough to keep his recruits in the boat.
It highlights how great of a player’s coach Fleck is and how he has rebuilt the program’s image from scratch. If there is anything Fleck’s recruits have shown, it is empathy. With the likes of Steven Ortiz wanting the current group of guys to play the season they deserve.
Recruits like Steven Ortiz get it. They are going through similar situations, themselves, unsure about their last high school seasons. It will take more than an opportunistic pitch from Dabo Swinney to sway recruits away from the Gophers. Just keep rowing the boat and everything will be fine.
Keep an Eye Out for the “Two For One”…
With the postponement of the 2020 season being potentially moved to early 2021, questions have arisen regarding early enrollees for the upcoming class. Could one player be eligible for two seasons in one calendar year if football is played in the spring after freshman enroll early? If they were to play that year (2 seasons), would it eat up one year of eligibility or two?
Both Ohio State’s Ryan Day and Purdue’s Jeff Brohm, have come out with differing plans for a spring or winter season. There is a lot of politicking going on.
Purdue Coach Jeff Brohm has released a football plan for 2021. pic.twitter.com/USYPxNmoOq— Sam McKewon (@swmckewonOWH) August 13, 2020
Ryan Day pitched the idea of incoming players playing a two-for-one calendar year, last week. This may be a non-starter for leagues that are playing in the fall but you can’t fault him for trying. The pitch makes even more sense when SEC, ACC, and Big XII schools are trying to poach top incoming recruits.
The question is whether 2021 recruits are playing this fall and thinking of enrolling early.
Jack Kewitsch | Minnesota Sports Fan