The solution, as we will explain below, is an early signing period and a change in the football recruiting calendar.
I love that Cody took a slow time in sports calendar, college sports specifically, and tackled the topic. I think some of us older folks are more traditional in our vision of sports writing, especially as it pertains to college athletics.
Just view the recently completed trial in Oakland, Calf., between the plaintiffs including former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon and former collegiate athletes vs. the NCAA. It is changing and young writers like Cody, who brings substance versus some new age bloggers that are just silly and comical in their stories and lack background work and substance, will pave ideas and informative reporting that will be the new standard for work on the internet. This is a story with meat and cause, not some superficial piece of crap reporting. I hope that is the direction this information source will travel with younger writers.
Now back to the story at hand. Cody is right in writing that unofficial visits are critical. I have a good friend that I am advising on how to navigate the recruiting process. Regardless of the sport, recruiting in college is similar. It is a beauty contest and no matter what the rankings or publicity a recruit is getting, one school's coach or coaching staff may love an athlete and another may not be so interested.
Just like relationships, the ability to see each other in person and show interest helps. There are always schools early in the recruiting process that want to get that first and maybe those first couple of commitments on the board. If a solid, talented player comes to campus and visits with his family on his own dime that shows interest and can often lead to an early offer.
As Cody explains, prospects with means can more easily go visit several college campuses on their own than a talented prospect from a less affluent or non-affluent economic background.
Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini suggested earlier this year that there be no signing day at all, allowing recruits can sign any time they want. That might be a little too unstructured and too early, but those of us with our heads wrapped around recruiting as we cover it extensively know that most high level Division I schools have 80 percent or more of their immediate recruiting class tucked away before the mad dash of recruiting activity starts following the end of the regular season after the Thanksgiving weekend.
That is when coaches go out and hit the road, and many of those coaches are spending more time looking at juniors and sophomores than they are any seniors. That class with seniors is done as many schools have a quarterback commitment before the end of June, close to half or two-thirds of their class committed before fall camp opens and those high school seniors start their last prep season.
With some visits coming in season, by the end there is your recruiting for the next signing day 80 to 100 percent completed and with those prospects all you are doing is baby sitting and keeping out poachers.
The NCAA and Conference Commissioners Association (they govern signing day) want to be responsible to their schools and also to the high school athletes and coaches. It's clear by the accelerated schedule now in recruiting that the majority of both sides want to get it done earlier.
The early signing day makes sense, and with an early signing day than move up the dates that juniors can take official visits. That levels the playing field for all prospects, no matter what their economic resources. Unofficial visits would still be taken but they would be more on game days in the fall and by sophomores. Those visits would be less definitive in nature with regard to scholarship offers and would be more informational for the recruits and families that want to spend the extra money to start the process earlier.
Here is my proposed schedule and I think a lot of college coaches would say this more accurately fits the timetable recruiting is operating on currently. There will always be some schools that watch and wait to see what other schools do and then try to poach off their classes and from others evaluations. I have no desire, and neither should those that make the policies for recruiting, in rewarding or more easily allowing those schools to operate in that fashion.
Schools can begin contact (email, text, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram) with any prospect that is heading into his junior season. Mail only can be sent to any high school prospect beginning his sophomore season. In-school and in-home visits are allowed for each school during the dates (four weeks) that they designate as recruiting days during the period following the end of their spring practice and the Memorial Day weekend.
Last Wednesday in July
Any prospect entering his senior season of high school or his final season of junior college can sign a traditional Letter of Intent with the school of their choice. This letter is binding. The window for signing this letter ends with the prospect's first regular season high school contest. Usually the last weekend of August or first weekend of September.
Telephone calls now permissible with any prospect in their junior year in high school. School and in-home visits are permissible during designated recruiting days by each school during the season. Those dates were formerly labeled evaluation days.
First Weekend of December
All prospects in their junior year of high school can begin taking official visits to schools. The limit on visits should be raised from a maximum of five to a maximum of seven. Those visits can be taken at any time starting here and ending with their signing during either the early or late signing period of their class. This period also opens up totally in-school and in-home visitation for prospects in their senior or junior years in school.
The usual holiday, bowl, and convention dead periods should be continued.
First Wednesday of February
All prospects in the final semester of their high school or junior college prospects that have transferred or will complete their academic work in the following spring or summer can sign a Letter of Intent with the school of their choice. This signing period extends until the next early signing date for prospects that meet the qualifications.
Second Friday after February Signing Day
In-school and in-home visits now cease for prospects in their junior season. However, official visits can still be scheduled and take place at anytime.
Here's a brief explanation that makes sense of all this. The calendar opens up recruiting more and gives more freedom while still including some some needed structure to schools and their coaching staffs and to the prospects, their families, and their coaches.
Opening up the visits for juniors in December of their junior year only makes sense with the early signing period and the fact that so many schools and their coaches at that point have turned the page heavily to recruiting the junior class. On top of that they are all set up that time of year to have visit weekends and this allows them to still do the bulk of that work in the same time of the year.
As for spring visits, this calendar will allow them to bring in prospects when students are on campus, football activities are going on with spring football. Yet unlike weekends in the fall when there is not as much pressure and focus on the coach's part on these weekends.
It makes sense for everybody and it does take off much of the importance of unofficial visits, which only a few prospects may be able to afford to make.