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Wednesday, June 12, 2013
East is now Big Ten territory, UM knows

By Chantel Jennings

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Now is a time when kids who are sports fans will need explanations for conference names.

They’ll want to know that at one point the “Pac” in Pac-12 (then eight) stands for the Pacific Ocean and that the conference held teams that were near that body of water, and that Arizona and Arizona State, being in deserts, isn’t just irony for the sake of conference humor. Or that the “East” in Big East didn’t initially imply “east of the Mississippi.” Or that something as simple as the Big Ten once truly had 10 teams.

But it’s a sign of the times, and conference realignment is a constant reality for today’s athletes. While the “Ten” in Big Ten is now a misnomer, it still lives up to the “Big” part, and the conference’s territory keeps growing bigger and bigger.

With the addition of Rutgers and Maryland, the land stretching from New York to Washington, D.C. is now technically Big Ten territory. If Brady Hoke wants to comb his region for talent, it’s an extension of the places he’ll have to succeed on the recruiting trail.

It’s outside of Hoke’s three-to-five-hour recruiting radius, but with his conference territory expanding, he might need to expand his own recruiting parameters as well. The Rutgers and Maryland territory could become prime real estate, so he’ll need to get into those two states and work.

Brady Hoke
For Michigan to continue its success under Brady Hoke, the Wolverines needs to expand their recruiting territory.
“I have noticed more of a presence about Michigan because they are hitting almost all the schools in New Jersey. They’re not just coming in and focusing on only the top players this year,” Paramus Catholic coach Chris Partridge said. “I think they did open it up a little bit more. … I noticed that the coaches were asking, ‘What schools are in the area? Where should we go?’”

So far the Wolverines have done well in New Jersey in the 2014 class with commitments from No. 1 CB Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic) and No. 10 OT Juwann Bushell-Beatty (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic).

And doing well with those players in those states and along the East Coast, now that it’s part of the Big Ten, is a necessity for conference wins, Partridge said.

“Once good players pop up and you have teams [from the East] in your league, you can’t just let those teams take those players and not always be in the battle for them,” Partridge said. “Now that Rutgers and Maryland are right here, and Penn State is close, they know they can’t just let the good players in New Jersey go [to those schools] and not be in the game.”

This year, New Jersey has five players in the ESPN 150, but the state's ability to produce top talent is nothing new. From 2011-14, New Jersey boasted 16 ESPN 150 prospects. Considering the state’s population is just over 8.86 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, that’s not bad. Especially when considering that neighboring Pennsylvania (12.76 million), whose population is nearly 1 1/2 times the amount of New Jersey, has produced four fewer ESPN 150 players over the same amount of time. And Michigan, which has a population of 9.88 million, only produced 11 ESPN 150 prospects from 2011-14.

Maryland, with a population of 5.77 million, produced that same number of ESPN 150 prospects over the same amount of time, despite having less than two-thirds the population of Michigan.

The Wolverines pulled one player out of Maryland last season, offensive lineman Henry Poggi (Baltimore/Gilman). This year, there are two Maryland natives in the ESPN 150, and just offensive tackle Damian Prince (Forestville, Md./Bishop McNamara) holds a Michigan offer.

DeMatha (Md.) coach Elijah Brooks has seen the Big Ten be successful in his area, but like Partridge, he has seen an increased presence from schools in his state. But he has also noticed that it’s not just conference expansion affecting where coaches recruit. It also changes how recruits see conferences.

A Washington, D.C., player who might have wanted to play at a school that would allow for his parents to come see him play, might have been more apt to choose Clemson or Virginia Tech -- competitive schools with schedules more favorable to drives vs. flights to games.

“It’s definitely a recruiting pitch that the Midwestern Big Ten schools are using -- if distance was an issue for your family, now there’s a good chance a couple times a year that we’ll be playing within a couple hours of your home or maybe right down the street,” Brooks said.

And with the Big Ten getting bigger and bigger, that street is getting longer. If Hoke wants to be successful in October and November, that recruiting trail will have to be long all year round, too.