Zook, Assistants Take to the Recruiting Trail

While the Fighting Illini players get some time off this weekend, their coaches will be working overtime. The bye week gives them an opportunity to watch prospects play their high school games. And they are taking advantage of it.

Coaches all over the country fan out on Friday evenings to watch high school football. But their time is limited since they are usually playing the following day. And they can't travel far from their home base. But a bye week is different.

Coach Zook discussed the schedule for himself and his assistants after Wednesday's practice.

"Most of our coaches are leaving tonight, and they'll be on the road Thursday and Friday. A couple of us will be on the road Saturday night. I'll be out Friday night and Saturday night."

The NCAA has restrictions on how many coaches can be on the road at any time as well as on the total number of visits. But a recent modification gives coaches a little more leeway on how to plan their recruiting schedules.

"We're allowed to have out 7 at a time. Actually, you can't have more than seven at a time, but the rule is you get 42 visits. It used to be you had 7 coaches at a time, and you had 6 days for 42. But now one guy could go 42 times."

Recruiting restrictions on head coaches prevented Zook from visiting high schools during the important May evaluation period. Since he is thorough in studying prospective recruits, a bye week can help him make up a little bit for what he couldn't do in May.

"I'm gonna try. We can't communicate or anything, but still it's an evaulation. It gives me an opportunity to get out and see them play. I won't go into any schools, I'm just going to games."

Fall evaluations were difficult without a bye week.

"It was a lot harder. Obviously, this gives you three straight days to go out. Coaches can get further away. When you just go out for one day, it's harder to get to Florida, D. C., or even Ohio for that matter."

Some "elite" level schools have favored recruiting restrictions on head coaches to prevent hard workers like Zook from luring top prospects away from them. They figure the less time people like Zook have to recruit, the more likely top athletes are to favor prestigious schools with name recognition.

So it is not surprising that some of these same schools also favor an early signing period for recruits. A November date completes the work required to gain commitments and keep those players in the fold without having to wait until February. This also appeals to schools with small recruiting budgets since their total expenses will be lower.

However, Coach Zook sees it from a different perspective.

"There were three of us in the Big Ten that voted against it, and I was one of the three. I just think that, without changing the calendar, it's gonna take the coaches' summer away because now you're gonna be recruiting in the summer. Everything's been moved up.

"It's not gonna matter. It's still gonna be the same amount of pressure. And there won't be as many guys commit because they know if they sign that thing it's done."

An early signing period prevents players from making several recruiting trips where they can make comparisons between schools. After all, official paid visits don't occur until December or later, and unofficial visits are becoming cost-prohibitive due to the high cost of gasoline, especially for long distance trips. Coach Zook agrees this will help the "elite" schools in the short run.

"I think a lot of times that happens. For a year or two, they may have an advantage. But eventually it will all work out when the kids see they're going places that, once they get there, they wish they weren't there."

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