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Big Ten needs to start reversing lull on national signing day

James Franklin, Jim Harbaugh and Urban Meyer — these are all names that move the meter on the national level, but if you were tuning in to 2015 national signing day coverage one would think their teams were the only ones existing in the Big Ten.

While it was nice of ESPN to throw the B1G a bone and allow a few other head coaches to make quick appearances via phone or via satellite remote, there was no doubt the conference was completely lacking in coverage.

However, the lack of coverage on ESPNU or the CBSSports Network coverage isn’t because of some perceived bias or anything else. The Big Ten only has itself to blame for a lack of coverage.

It all starts with actually putting up better ranked classes and being more relevant with recruits that want to make announcements come national signing day. That usually means being involved for top-level recruits and getting noticed because of it.

Was anyone talking about UCLA nationally before NSD? Nope.

After hauling in player after player on Wednesday the Bruins certainly were the talk of the town.

The Big Ten? Conference teams were barely able to get a seat at the table for a lot of these prospects and in the end swung and missed on ever one of the players making an announcement on national signing day.

Michigan had it the worst, missing out on Chris Clark, Imam Marshall and two other kids who all had UM in their final group of schools. That sort of deflates any momentum gained over the course of a pretty spectacular final two weeks of the recruiting season.

It also doesn’t force a network like ESPNU to talk about you outside of the obligated interviews and remotes at the obvious places like Ann Arbor, Columbus and State College.

One look at the 247Sports team rankings from the 2015 cycle also shows why the Big Ten isn’t being talked about come national signing day. Having just one top 10 class, two other teams in the top 25 and Michigan back inside the top 40 also makes it easy to understand why.

So, once again, the Big Ten can only look inside its membership for reasons as to why it isn’t being talked about more come national signing day. It can also look to the fact that up until this past season the Big Ten wasn’t really producing at a high level on the field either.

These things don’t turn around over night and some of the issues that the Big Ten face can’t be corrected unless drastic measures are taken.

Unless the Big Ten sees the population beginning to come back to the footprint or suddenly the climate is flipped on its head it can’t control the things that have become disadvantageous to it since recruiting services became uber-popular.

No matter those built-in disadvantages, it’s still not a good sign that the vast majority of the conference isn’t finding ways to at least get closer to the have’s of the college football world.

In fact, national signing day was a giant party for both the Pac-12 and the SEC, with a sprinkling of ACC talk thrown in for good measure. The SEC got the banner because 12 of its 14 schools were ranked inside the top 25 (according to the 247Sports rankings).

At some point that’s got to stop if the entire conference is to do more than be Ohio State and everyone else picking up the scraps of what is left over — on the field and on the recruiting trail.

People could point to a myriad of reasons as to why the Big Ten makes its fans feel like it is falling further and further behind every national signing day, but where is the action to correct those reasons?

Some of that started this bowl season, with the Big Ten coming in as underdogs in all 10 matchups and left with a winning record, three New Year’s Day victories (two over the SEC) and the national champion.

Now, adding to that by winning early regular season matchups and continuing to succeed against he best of competition will only enhance the Big Ten’s profile.

There’s also the issue of money, which is one of the more interesting debates on the recruiting trail. Some schools flash the cash and get little in return, while others are frugal and have had the best of returns out there.

Wisconsin has the smallest recruiting budget in the conference, but it also happens to own the most wins from 2009-2013 and the smallest amount spent on recruiting per win. Efficiency rules, doesn’t it?

On the opposite end, you’ve got Rutgers who identified the issues it was having even though it sat in the middle of the Mid-Atlantic’s biggest recruiting hotbed. According to the USA Today Sports report, Rutgers upped its recruiting budget over 41 percent in a five-year period and found a way to jump spending by $90,000 in the year prior to joining the Big Ten alone.

Even more impressive, Rutgers’ total football recruiting expenses for the Fiscal Year 2014 ($482,220) were a 60 percent increase over where things stood six years ago.

The question for a school like Rutgers and the rest of the Big Ten is if they are seeing a return on their increased investment?

According to the USA Today Sports data, spending like crazy may not be the answer to getting more respect on the field — just ask Wisconsin. In fact, there is a clear correlation between prudent spending and winning football games.

The three teams who have won most are also spending the least amount of money per win in recruiting than any other Big Ten team between 2009-2013. Of course, we’re talking about Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin.

School Recruiting Per Win
Purdue $119,424
Illinois $111,174
Minnesota $97,111
Indiana $82,362
Michigan $74,752
Nebraska $60,180
Maryland $50,821
Rutgers $48,101
Iowa $48,099
Ohio State $42,487
Michigan State $40,989
Wisconsin $23,147
Penn State N/A

Rutgers has its own issues going on, and there in lies another component of the problem for many Big Ten programs — a serious lack of healthy athletic departments. Many are running on the razor’s edge when it comes to being in the black or red and that just isn’t an issue in other conferences, at least not on the level of the Big Ten.

It’s hard to ignore that Rutgers’ overall athletic budget issues are keeping it from being a major force in the world of college football recruiting. Maybe that changes with the multi-million dollar boost to the coffers that Big Ten membership will give them, but the Big Ten’s growing irrelevancy is only going to slip further as we wait for the money to catch up at Rutgers or Wisconsin.

Action is needed at the conference level, and perhaps it’s time for the athletic administrators to give their teams the budgets their lofty expectations for winning football aren’t matching. Perhaps it’s also time for athletic programs to become more innovative and think of ways to draw the needed talent up north in ways we haven’t even thought of yet.

bombarding players with hundreds of letters is old-school, and frankly it doesn’t work the way some kids want. The key to finding a way out of this situation could just be finding a way in with these kids that matters in their daily lives — ala more Instagram and less Facebook, etc.

The good news is that the Big Ten has the power and ability to change its perception right in its own hands. It also has the knowledge that college football ebbs and flows and that eventually things will come back the way of the B1G.

Coverage on national signing day may not be the end all, be all; but the reality of the situation is those schools getting the coverage are getting it for a reason — they’re also the ones sitting at the top of the standings and dominating the conversations come fall too.

Until the Big Ten begins to dominate in the fall, the first Wednesday in February will feel a lot less like a celebration and more like looking in to the store window at the pretty things inside that you can’t have.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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