CLEVELAND — Sharks, including a big blue one up north, are circling the troubled waters around Ohio State's maimed and maligned football program.
As the school anxiously awaits potential NCAA sanctions and further public shame from the tattoo-for-memorabilia scandal that has already claimed coach Jim Tressel and quarterback Terrelle Pryor, schools like rival Michigan, Big Ten newcomer Nebraska, and reawakened Notre Dame could be poised to tear a few chunks off the battered Buckeyes.
Recruiting, you see, is a bloodsport all its own.
Though it's too early to fully assess what impact Ohio State's present problems — and any future troubles it may face once the NCAA has its say — will have on recruiting, it's clear the Buckeyes could take some major hits.
They may have already.
On Friday, Tom Strobel, a 6-foot-6, 245-pound junior defensive end from Mentor, Ohio, committed to the Wolverines, who under new coach Brady Hoke figure to benefit from Ohio State's mess more than any other school. Although Strobel said Michigan's academics ultimately swayed him to choose the Big Blue over the Buckeyes, the team he's cheered for since his childhood, threatening storm clouds enshrouding Columbus certainly didn't help Ohio State's cause.
"When I filled out Strobel's evaluation card after talking to him, I wrote down, '95 percent going to Ohio State,'" CBS College Sports recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said. "I thought he was a lock and I thought the Top 10 recruits in Ohio would all end up going to Ohio State.
"But now, with Tressel gone and so much uncertainty hanging over the program, I'm not so sure."
What's clear at this point is that Ohio State has an image problem, one that could potentially turn off prospective players — mainly ones from outside Ohio — who, like everyone else, have spent the past several weeks watching a college football giant dropped to its kneepads.
Tressel's resignation, followed just one week later by Pryor's decision to bolt before his senior season, have tarnished the program. And things could get much worse for Ohio State after a meeting in August, when the school is scheduled to appear before the NCAA's committee on infractions.
There could be long-term consequences. It's possible the Buckeyes will be banned for several years from postseason play, suffer a substantial reduction in scholarships, and perhaps even be stripped of conference titles.
Whatever the outcome, Ohio State may not seem as inviting to blue-chippers, who could be turned off by what has transpired or what lies ahead.
"Kids go to Ohio State because of its tradition, the chance to play for and win a national championship and maybe to someday go to the NFL," said Lemming, who has charted recruiting's growth from underground curiosity to big-time business over the past 32 years. "What has happened there could turn away kids if they want to play in a bowl game or if the scholarships are taken away and they are no longer among the elite.
"There's a lot at stake."
Well, one man's misfortune is another man's opportunity, and other schools could benefit from Ohio State's dramatic fall.
"Michigan, man," said Doug Plank, a former Ohio State and NFL defensive back now working for NCSA, a recruiting firm that connects athletes and their families with schools. "They are back in the recruiting business in Ohio."
For 10 years, Tressel owned the state. He made it a priority to keep Ohio's best playing in their backyard. However, his departure has created a huge opening for Hoke, the Wolverines' first-year coach who laid the foundation for recruiting in his home state when he was a Michigan assistant and obviously sees it as a priority.
Hoke has already landed several Ohio stars, and is making a hard push for Cincinnati Taft's Adolphus Washington, a defensive end considered by many to be the biggest prize in the Buckeye state.
"There's no doubt he's going after Ohio kids," Strobel said, "and I think he's going to be able to get a few."
Not long after Tressel stepped down, Kyle Kalis, a 6-foot-5, 305-pound junior offensive lineman from St. Edward High outside Cleveland decided he was moving on, too. He called interim Ohio State coach Luke Fickell intent on telling him he was de-committing from the Buckeyes.
Kalis, though, was persuaded to stay following a 45-minute conversation by Fickell, who may find himself having future talks with waffling recruits.
Fickell's not concerned about the torrents of negativity directed at the Buckeyes. He's going to continue promoting his alma mater's finest qualities.
"It's about something so much greater than just one situation, one player or one coach," Fickell said. "We've recruited that for the last 10 years and we truly believe that Ohio State will continue to attract the best student-athletes around the country."
During recent on-campus visits with recruits and their families, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald has noticed an increase in questions about the school's values, discipline, accountability and internal expectations — all queries he believes are a direct result of Ohio State's situation.
The Buckeyes' issues may allow the Wildcats to recruit players they otherwise would have passed up or had no chance of signing.
"As a staff, we talked about kids that are interested in Ohio State that are high-academic kids (who) may now open up the recruiting a little bit more in the state of Ohio," Fitzgerald said. "Maybe, (Ohio State) might lose a few battles with a school and a school fills up, then we might win a few battles because of just the numbers game. I think it's way too early to tell, but I think you can at least hypothesize on what might happen."