May 11, 2008

Football could need early signing period

Periodically, we will ask our football and basketball recruiting analysts to answer some questions that don't pertain to specific prospects. Instead, the questions will be about broader recruiting issues.

Today, football recruiting analyst Jamie Newberg discusses the early recruiting period.

Q. Do you think the new NCAA rule banning head coaches from being on the road during the spring evaluation period is a big deal, or are some coaches overreacting?
I think it is a big deal and I don't agree with the NCAA. First, you have the assistants on the road. Why not the head coach? If the NCAA thinks a few head coaches are not abiding by the "bump rule," do they honestly feel the same with the assistants on the road? Just like anything else in life, college football is going to have a few coaches push the envelope. In this case, they are interacting with recruits when they shouldn't. It's those few that should be punished, not all the head coaches.

I have talked with some coaches who like the new rule and to others who are against the new rule. The bottom line is that this rule penalizes the head coaches that do things the right way, and want and need to be recruiting on the road during the May evaluation period.

Q. We're in May right now. Do coaches already know if some of their targets for next February are going to fall short academically? In those cases, generally how much effort goes into the continued recruiting of that player in terms of trying to place him in a prep school or junior college?
Sure, we're still a long way from National Signing Day, but at this time of the year, coaches should have a good idea of where every prospect they are recruiting stands academically. That's just part of the entire evaluation process. In this regard, it's getting the transcripts and understanding what lies ahead with each individual prospect. With players on the academic bubble, teams will continue to recruit them knowing full well that it will be close when it comes to the player qualifying. Some coaches and schools will even lay out an academic plan to follow to help that recruit qualify. Still, there is a point of no return when a school is going to have to decide when to cut a prospect loose if it really thinks he won't make it.

It has been my experience to expect the unexpected in terms of recruiting with regard to academics. Each year, you hear about prospects who have little or no chance to qualify and they do. Then you see prospects who are on track to qualify and they get lazy in the classroom and don't make it academically.

I think it also depends on what region you're from. In some places, schools will know a recruit won't qualify, but they'll still sign him so they can place him in a junior college or prep school, hoping to sign him a year or two later.

Unless it is completely obvious a prospect won't qualify, teams will continue to recruit them because you just never know.

Q. In terms of recruiting junior colleges, how much time do coaches generally spend in the spring on that?
I believe there are a certain number of schools that will focus hard on the junior colleges now. They should know going into the May evaluation period that they will want to supplement their recruiting with 'X' number of junior college prospects. It is at this time when they should be on the road and doing the proper evals in terms of the junior college prospects.

Q. You've been following recruiting for more than a decade. Have you seen more importance placed on academics by prospects of late, or do too many let it slide until too late?
I do believe there is more importance placed on academics for a few reasons. First, recruiting is more popular than ever and gains steam every year. No school wants front-page news on academic casualties. Second, because the standards continue to get a little more difficult, you have to make sure the prospects you are signing get in school and can stay in school.

The more attrition you have as a program, the harder it is to keep continuity. You lose players for academic reasons, and it may force a coaching staff to play a younger player who may not be ready.

Q. How much time are coaches spending on the 2010 class this spring?
The more early commitments you receive, the closer you are to being complete with the overall recruiting class. This means you can focus on "next year."

Look at Texas. They are a prime example and a prime reason recruiting is getting speeded up. They are typically done by June 1. This affords them time to really focus on next year's prospects, which they do during the spring.

Again, all these early commitments allow schools to get a major head start on the all competition in recruiting. This is huge for teams that elect to do it this way.

Q. More and more players seem to be committing earlier and earlier. Does football need an early signing period, as there is with basketball?
Absolutely. I was on the fence for a long time but no longer. There are just too many early commitments.

I looked into this last summer. Commitments to BCS schools by June 1 of 2007 compared to June 1 of 2002 were up 500 percent. It's amazing how this has happened.

Here's the problem: When do you have an early signing period? I know there is talk about one potentially sometime in December. I think that's a start, but how much does that really help out these prospects, their families and the schools? You are just eight to 10 weeks away from National Signing Day.

To me, the best time to have an additional signing period would be the last Wednesday in July or the first Wednesday in August, right before two-a-days start at both the high school and college level. But for this to happen, the recruiting calendar would have to be changed. There would have to be a set time in the summer where prospects would have the opportunity to make some official visits. Remember, recruiting is still about relationships, and you have to give every young man and every staff a chance to forge those relationships.

Let's face it, the entire process is happening at light speed right now. Teams are evaluating earlier and getting their scholarship offers out earlier. More and more prospects are becoming proactive and making unofficial visits. They go to games, travel to campuses during the spring and summer and attend summer football camps. In other words, they are doing their due diligence earlier and coming up with their decisions earlier. But not every prospect has the means to make trips in the spring or summer, and that is why I think you need to change up the recruiting calendar and allow a period in June or July where prospects could make official visits. They all have to have the same opportunity.

Still, what happens if there is a signing period in late July or early August (or even in October), then there is a coaching change? All those kids who signed early would be stuck with that school. Is that fair for all parties involved? This is one of the potential issues you would have.

But there are some smart people in college football and they should be able to figure this out. Then again, college football still doesn't have a playoff, so all bets are off.

NOTE: If you have recruiting questions of this type regarding football or basketball, send them to college sports editor Mike Huguenin is your source for: College Football | Football Recruiting | College Basketball | Basketball Recruiting | College Baseball | High School | College Merchandise
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