High school seniors now can sign binding national letters of intent in December, next spring juniors can take official visits, and hiring high school coaches of prospects, or a prospect's family member or trainer, comes with restraints.
These are the sweeping changes made by the NCAA in football recruiting, and were announced Friday. They are aimed at protecting the student-athlete and taking some of the craziness out of recruiting.
Since we are dealing with student-athletes, though, for every action there is a reaction, and in these instances, there is often some concerns over what is widely being regarded as positive moves.
In examining each of the key rules changes, there is plenty to consider.
Adding of a December Signing Period
This new signing period coincides with the current 72-hour junior college signing period. Prospects will still be able to sign a binding national letter of intent during the February signing period.
Pros: A player can lock in his decision, then relax until his early enrollment in January, or not have to stress about being dropped by a new coaching staff, or being recruited over, in late January in the run up to the traditional signing day on the first Wednesday of February.
Conversely, programs can identify talent and sign players in December and not deal with the potential flips in late January and on signing day. The benefit should be bigger for the non-elite schools. The idea is there is less time for "bigger" programs to re-assess their needs and pluck prospects from other programs as signing day approaches.
Cons: A prospects signs with a school, a coach leaves or is fired, and now what does the prospect do? Does he ask out of his letter? What about the pro-style quarterback whose new coach will employ a read-option offense?
Look no further than Washington basketball last month in which a coaching change was made and players asked out of their national letters of intent. As prospects look to protect their interests more and more, getting out of binding letters will become a bigger issue.
Also, the rule gives a lot of leverage to schools. The player who is not highly recruited in the spring misses out on those official visits, so he plans them for the fall. However, a deep playoff run has him on the field each weekend into December, cutting down his official visit options. If he is not a top tier recruit (let's say in the Scout 300), schools can pressure him to sign in December after one or two official visits are made, or the player risks not having a slot come February's signing day.
Official Visits Can Be Made April-June
Prospects can now take official visits during their junior year. The visit must occur between April and June.
Pros: Cannot afford to take long trips? This remedies that and also accelerates the process for kids and programs. Prospects will get an in-depth look at programs, and will not need to spend their own money to jet set around the country. It gives the players a longer recruiting window to make a more informed decision, and cuts down on programs asking coaches/handlers to load up a van to get kids to campus on a weekend. Schools will learn more about a player and his fit into its program.
Cons: A prospect could find himself with limited official visit options in the fall, which could be an issue depending on his development (or lack thereof) during his senior season. It allows for prospects to make official visits to campuses before full spring evaluations are made.
We all know about the offers that are not really offers, but are merely designed to get a kid to campus. Well, some of those kids will waste an official visit on such schools, which do not want to offend certain prospects in case they develop into a prospect good enough to take on signing day.
Also, prospects can make visits to far away schools in the spring now, but conversely, when it comes close to decision day, making a visit may not be feasible because of the economics of it. And schools would rather have a kid visit close to a decision day rather than six to eight months before it.
The 10th Assistant Rule
FBS programs are allowed to add a 10th assistant coach, effective Jan. 9, 2018.
Pros: More coaches breaking down film, more coaches coaching, and more coaches recruiting. It should make for less mistakes in recruiting, better relationships and better evaluations.
Cons: The rich get richer. As coaches aspire to be at the top of their fields, it means the better coaches will continue to be with the better programs. More depth and resources at the top means less depth as you slide down the food chain, and the bigger separation on the spectrum. Smaller programs with a tight budget now must add a few hundred thousand dollars to their ledger.
Regulating Hiring Of High School Assistant Coaches
FBS programs cannot hire people close to a prospect for two years before and after the arrival of the prospect.
Pros: Hiring someone for an invented off-the-field job is no longer an option. Because a coach is close with a recruit, or a trainer has the inside track with a recruit, resulted in some entertaining hiring practices in which someone was brought on board despite a questionable resume. It means no more "Johnny is going to School A because they promised his dad a job" speculation. Such a person can be hired as an on-field assistant coach.
Cons: See Michigan assistant coach Chris Partridge. He was a successful high school coach, built a state power at Paramus (N.J.) Catholic and then was hired for a year in an off-field role. He proved his ability and earned the trust of the head coach, and was elevated to linebackers coach. This can no longer take place.