Between April 15 and May 31, each FBS program is allowed 168 evaluation days, excluding Memorial Day and Sundays. An evaluation day is one day in which an assistant coach is on the road stopping by high schools. Head coaches are not allowed on the road in the spring.
College coaches can make two evaluations per athlete during this period, one for athletics and the other has to be for an academic evaluation. If the college coach does both evaluations the same day, however, then the coach is granted another athletics evaluation of the recruit.
An organized travel plan created by the college program's operations staff is required in order to take full advantage of the 168 evaluation days. Adam Toyama heads up this task for Colorado as the Buffaloes' Director of Recruiting with help from Scott Unrein, Erik Aunese, Cory Hall and Matt Bryson, among others. An assistant coach will try to visit as many high schools to see as many prospects as they can each day.
Scout.com recruiting analyst Greg Biggins believes high school football players grow and develop the most between their junior and senior year.
“Because of that the spring eval period is gigantic, especially for a program like Colorado that recruits out of state a lot,” Biggins said. “They get to come out and see where the recruits are at. They see where their bodies are, how they have developed, look at their athleticism.
“You are making decisions on offers that are going to affect your program three/four years down the line just based off eye-balling and watching to see if the film matches up. Sometimes they are better than the film or maybe they have peaked already. Being able to see them in-person helps them determine that.”
The spring evaluation period used to be the first time college coaches would have in-depth contact with recruits. But now that communication between college coaches and recruits is allowed via social media, that aspect of the spring evaluation period has lost its importance.
On their visits to high schools, college coaches are allowed to “bump” into recruits per NCAA rules. But the NCAA was naive in thinking college coaches would only say hello to prospects during these interactions.
“The high school coaches will flat out tell me, 'I am not going to have this college fly a coach all the way out here and not allow him to at least talk to my player for five minutes,'” Biggins said. “So even though it is supposed to just be a limited bump, a quick hello, it is more in-depth than that.
“When the colleges visit the high schools there is a conversation that goes on with the kid. Some schools are probably more blatant [in breaking the rule] than others. But every coach does it to some extent. And that is why nobody really ever gets turned in, because they are all doing it.”
Many people, including Biggins, point to former Penn State coach Joe Paterno as the originator of early recruiting in the early 1990s. Over the course of the last 25 years, the recruiting process has continued to get sped up.
With nearly 10 months still remaining until signing day, Colorado has already received a verbal commitment from five prospects, and according to the Scout database, the Buffaloes have offered 139 recruits from the Class of 2018.
“In the old days, you played your senior year and you got the offer based on that,” Biggins recalled. “Now, offers are going out earlier and earlier and earlier. So I think the spring eval period has become more important just because you have to keep up with everybody else.”
Biggins has talked to enough college coaches to know they do not like the way the process has been accelerated. Early recruiting is a necessary evil in their eyes.
“The longer you can evaluate a kid, the better your evaluation is going to be,” Biggins said. “When you are offering a kid off of sophomore film, this guy may not even be a [legitimate prospect] by the time he is a senior, but you have already offered him because you feel like you have to keep up with everybody else.
“It is almost like if you haven't offered a kid by the spring eval period, nowadays, you are hoping it is not too late. Some of these kids get offended and wonder, 'Man, I already have 10 offers and they haven't offered me so that school is sleeping on me.' Early offers have dramatically changed recruiting.”
This year, prior to sending its assistant coaches on the road for evaluations, Colorado will be hosting a Recruit Day event in Boulder on April 15. BuffStampede.com will have more on that event soon, as well as recruiting updates throughout the spring evaluation period.