Harvey: Earlier official visits are needed

The news that offered Florida prep quarterback Zach Darlington is visiting Nebraska in June is bigger than it appears.

LINCOLN, Neb. - Mark me down in the "getting Zach Darlington to Lincoln for an unofficial visit is huge" club.

Darlington, a gunslinger from Apopka (Flor.), is an example of what's wrong in the recruiting process set forth by the NCAA.

The soon to be high school senior will be visiting Lincoln, Nebraska on June 6th, with we assume will be his father - Rick Darlington, who is also the the head coach at Apopka High School.

A trip from Florida to Nebraska – not exactly cheap.

A recruits parents having to pay for it out of their pocket – well that's just sorry.

After a quick little research, here are some estimated numbers for a trip of this venture:

1.) Orlando to Omaha airfare - $471 a person

2.) Rental car from Omaha to Lincoln + gas - $75.00

3.) Hotel in Lincoln - $90
Total: $1,107

*** We didn't even take into accounts things like food, baggage fees, and souvenirs.

Did I mention he's taking another trip a couple weeks later to Ohio State? Once again on his own dime.

With the current trend in the college football recruiting process, programs are starting earlier and earlier to not only recruit, but pressure prospects into commitments - making guys choose usually earlier in their high school careers than compared to even a decade ago.

Because of this, I think it's time for the NCAA to review their stance on "official visits."

Currently a football recruit can not officially visit (school pays for the trip) a university until he's had his first day of class during his senior year of high school and he's provided an official ACT or SAT/high school transcripts.

It's a rule that hinders schools like Nebraska, who can be called geographically disadvantaged.

"By that time, it's over or at least with a lot of these kids it is," said Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini at Big Ten Media Days last year.

The state of Nebraska and the surrounding areas doesn't produce enough D-1 talent on a normal basis to field a BCS level school that can compete for a conference title. Because of this, the Nebraska coaching staff is forced to recruit places like Texas, Ohio, California, and Florida – making it harder for recruits in those areas to visit Lincoln unofficially because of the money and distance factor.

With the process speeding up, schools in those hotbeds or very close to it, can have a prospect check out the university not only during the recruit's junior year, but also during the summer at a much cheaper rate. It's also easier to convince a high school coach to load up a few of his players in a van and drive them to campus.

It's why a rule needs to be put into place to help schools like Nebraska going forward.

The NCAA should allow prospects a number of official visits during their junior year or the summer leading into their senior year. Currently a prospect is allowed to take five officials. If the NCAA allowed a recruit to take two before September 1st of his senior year, it would help in leveling the playing field.

"Lets let them take visits when they are sophomores and juniors, so we can pay for them and get their parents on campus," said Pelini. "Why put a limit on when a kid can take officials – he's going to get five of them anyway? Shouldn't he be able to take them when he wants to? It doesn't make any sense.

"The faster it is, the worse it is for Nebraska. We have more success when we are able to get the recruit and the parents on campus. You are getting less and less parents on campus, because everyone is committing before their senior year. Unless they have the money to drive and make it there, that's not good for Nebraska."

A game-day atmosphere in Lincoln is one of the best in the nation – recruits often comment on the experience being the selling point for the school. Now a days though, too many recruits are never getting a chance to see it.

Depending on how his recruitment goes, Zach Darlington might not ever see a game-day atmosphere in Lincoln as a recruit either, but at least he's going to get to see the campus in June.

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Josh Harvey has covered college football and recruiting for Fox Sports & Scout.com since 2008. He is now the Publisher of Big Red Report, covering Nebraska athletics.
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