Mark Pantoni says Ohio State “may have to pull out” of hiring domestic prospects sooner if NIL is the driving force in their hires

Mark Pantoni

Ohio State is a month away from its season that ended with a last-second Peach Bowl loss at the hands of Georgia.

But there has been no offseason for assistant athletic director of player personnel Mark Pantoni and his recruiting staff. Over the past few months, Pantoni has been hard at work completing the Buckeyes’ 2023 recruiting class and evaluating OSU’s prospects for targeting on the transfer portal.

As the dust cleared on National Signing Day Wednesday, OSU had signed 20 high school prospects in the 2023 cycle, all of whom signed during the Early Signing Period, and five transfer portal players, giving them 25 new additions in total for the next season.

With the 2023 class finished, barring more to be added via the transfer portal when it opens again in May, Pantoni, who says he watches an average of eight to nine hours of film per day during the season, said he and his Staff have already focused on evaluating recruits in the classes of 2024, 2025 and 2026. But Ohio State’s recruiting approach for future cycles may be altered from how the Buckeyes have operated in the past now that NIL is a major driving force in college football.

In the 2023 class, Ohio State missed several high-level targets, and the NIL played a role in at least some of those prospects’ decisions to head elsewhere. As such, while OSU is still operating with the goal of getting the best players possible, Pantoni said it will likely place a greater emphasis on recruiting prospects out of Ohio and within the Midwest in general. That mindset has been reflected in the recruiting pipeline in recent weeks, with several Ohio prospects receiving offers that include Devontae Y Deontae armstrong, Sam Williams Dixon, marquise davis, dorian beer, Marc Nave Jr.. Y carter lowe.

“I think this year is the learning curve of feeling it the hard way,” Pantoni said of NIL hurting OSU’s recruiting. “But you know, now that we’ve gone through a full cycle, I think we’ll go into this class with a better mindset of spending our time and resources in certain areas versus others.”

Even with a greater potential focus on Ohio prospects, the Buckeyes will still try to recruit the best prospects from across the country. But Pantoni said OSU may drop out of the race for a prized recruit sooner than it would have in the days before NIL if it becomes clear that NIL is the driving factor in that recruiting.

“Definitely a new mindset for how we’re going to have to approach things during this time,” Pantoni said while meeting with reporters on Wednesday. “Obviously, (we’ll recruit) a lot heavier in Ohio, in the Midwest. And then regionally, we’ll do our best as we always have, but we may have to stop recruiting some guys nationally faster than we have if we know right away that NIL is going to be a major factor. . in their hiring. It’s probably not something we want to end up competing with for choice as well. You know, is that something we also want to bring to the locker room? So those are the conversations that we have, you know, on this day.

“Obviously, we’re going to do our due diligence on everyone, as usual. And then we really have to do a better job of researching and seeing what’s really important. We want kids to want to come to Ohio State in the first place because of Ohio State and the great tradition and history of all the guys who have been here before them. And the main thing about why we won is that culture in that locker room, so we can’t do anything that can take away from that.”

Pantoni said he and the OSU staff talk daily about particular prospects and what are the most important factors in their recruiting, including learning about a player’s inner circle and background to try to accurately gauge whether he’s a good fit for Columbus.

“These are conversations that we have all the time,” Pantoni said of him and his staff trying to gauge a recruit’s motivation. “Just looking at the names and where we are with regards to the guys, and what’s going to make this guy make his decision? Is he going to be NIL? Is it going to be development and brotherhood and culture and winning? And all the wonderful things this place has to offer? Or will it be strictly for money? And those are conversations we have. The worst thing we can do is waste a lot of time and effort letting the kids know and then you lose them at the end of the day… In today’s world we really understand some of these national kids we can be in the top five or the top three, but at the end of the day, that could change very quickly.

Regarding NIL in general, Pantoni said that NIL is not used nationally as intended. He hopes guardrails will be put in place to help mitigate the gray areas that currently exist.

“I just hope that there are a lot of really smart people in this profession, that we can all come together and find a solution to this as quickly as possible,” Pantoni said. “Because I don’t think there are many people who enjoy what is happening. And I think, you know, NIL is not what it was meant to be. So I’m raising my hand to help in any way I can to find a solution to fix this.”

Where Pantoni believes NIL will continue to be an asset to the Buckeyes is in player retention. Only five scholarship players from last season have transferred elsewhere from Ohio State, and Pantoni says helping his current players get NIL opportunities will continue to be a point of emphasis for OSU.

“Our current squad and our current retention is what NIL is for, you know, the guys who really earned their name through their game on the field,” Pantoni said. “And now with their name, image and likeness, they can capitalize on that. And I think a place like Ohio State, in the 15th largest city, with the power of this brand and the fan base, our guys are taking advantage of it right now because of that. So that’s what it was meant to be. And we are happy that they have that opportunity.”

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