The Changing Face of Recruiting
By my count, there are 23 programs nationwide, which currently hold commitments from at least two prospects. Given the fact that it's August 14, we'll consider that number a truly landmark figure. For the last four years, the number of commitments made prior to September 1 has risen steadily and it's reached it apex this year.
The early commitments do a number of things, many of which we are now seeing as cumulative effects over the last four years. Taking commitments early has sped up the timeline for the whole recruiting process. It is now not a luxury, but a must to go out and evaluate players prior to the summer of their senior years. That means less time gets devoted to the current class. In theory, we can hypothesize that less detailed evaluations spent on seniors, because schools are thinking two classes ahead rather than one, may lead to the increased number of transfers. If that's the case, then the "5/8" rule should be tossed out of the window because it's simply putting handcuffs on people for the wrong reasons and adding to the current problem.
On the surface, possibly the biggest change we are seeing is the devaluation of the official visit. By the time September rolls around, we can estimate that anywhere between 120 and 150 kids may have made decisions. Five years ago, that just wasn't the case. Kids took official trips, got to see the school's campus; heck maybe even took in a practice or game before deciding. That's not the case anymore.
While the glamour of the official visit will likely never lose its shine, the purpose of the visit is certainly changing. More and more visits are mere formalities as kids have committed to schools well in advance and the official visit is just a time to relax, meet the team and hang out. Don't get me wrong, those are all good things and surely these visits are fun. But, haven't they now lost their purpose? What happened to comparison shopping?
Regardless, we are entering a new phase in the ever-changing recruiting calendar. Sure, some schools will probably conduct 15-20 in-home visits. However, those will be the low-major programs still seeking to identify recruits for their program. Meanwhile, the big boys from the high-major conferences won't be spending nearly as much time on the road in September dining with prospects and mingling in living rooms. In fact, I've talked to a lot of high-major schools, some that don't even have commitments and their in-home visit list often times doesn't exceed five.
Looking at this from the outside it would seem that the low-major schools are the ones who are still abiding by the spirit of the fall signing period. Their jobs haven't gotten any easier and for the most part, they'll be the ones conducting high numbers of in-home visits.
There are some benefits to early commitments. It gives the prospect a chance to squarely focus on his upcoming senior high school season without having to worry about the recruiting process. This can be a good thing.
From a college recruiter's perspective, in theory it could give coaches a chance to focus more on their respective college teams. However, they could wind up spending the same time they normally would on the road watching juniors and sophomores in some cases, as they would watching senior prospects.
So, how do we fix this or do we fix this? When the NCAA originally bounced around the idea of kids, provided they have completed their junior year, taking official visits, I wasn't a big fan. However, I think it could be in the best interest of the kids if this trend continues, provided we still require the SAT/ACT be taken in order to make an official visit. By taking the standardized test, it gives the colleges a chance to gauge where the prospect stands academically. Let's face it; taking early commitments is great for the colleges provided kids could qualify. But, if they fail to meet the current minimum requirements, then no one really wins and schools are faced with gaping holes in their classes while prospects scurry to find prep schools or junior colleges.
It's an interesting topic and surely one for debate. The bottom line is this year has given us more commitments prior to September than ever. Is this a positive trend, a change in the face of the recruiting game or something that needs to be reassessed and possibly changed? Who really benefits and who loses? It's been a few years since the trend began and maybe now is a good time for some sort of formal study on the topic.