Analyzing the impact rule changes for recruiting have on USC

Last week the NCAA D-1 Council passed several rules that will change the recruiting landscape for USC and many other major football powers.

A majority of these rules will hinder USC recruiting to some extent. But being at the center of a talent hotbed will always give the Trojans an inherent recruiting advantage over most other programs. These new rules are more of an assault to the evaluation process. 

While some college football fans may see recruiting as all salesmanship, evaluating and analyzing talent is equally as important. 

The December signing period will allow recruits to sign a letter of intent almost a month before the College Football National Championship game. Proponents of the rule say it will give prospective student-athletes a reprieve from the three-week period in January when recruiting pressure is at its peak. 

Further, the argument states that college coaches will now have a better idea of how their recruiting class is shaping up well before the February signing period. Truly solid commits will sign in December, while those just reserving a place in the class will not. 

At face value, these are valid arguments for an early signing period, but they don't stand up to the reality of the recruiting process. Instead of college coaches pressuring prospective student-athletes to sign in the weeks leading up to the first Wednesday of February, they will pressure kids to sign just before the holidays. 

Schools will scramble to set up official visits in late November and early December hoping they can seal the deal with a recruit on his trip. This scramble will happen between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which is when most high school students are taking final exams for the fall semester. It does not circumvent the distractions most recruits cite as reason's to commit in August and September before their senior years. 

Gerard Martinez |

Another issue, raised by many analysts, is that this signing period comes right before the bowl season. That is to say, right before the annual maelstrom of college football coaching moves. This is a factor early entrants must consider when choosing a school, so it will be something recruits signing in December will have to consider as well. A flurry of recruits petitioning out of their letter of intent because of coaching changes would render this signing period arbitrary. 

Clay Helton and his staff have proven to be excellent closers in recruiting. Certainly fewer options come January is of no benefit to USC. Granted, it remains to be seen whether many high-level recruits will sign in December if they are not mid-year graduates. USC freshman quarterback Jack Sears de-committed from Duke in November of last year. After Sears unofficially visited USC, the Blue Devil coaching staff reportedly gave him an ultimatum; stop talking to other schools or lose your ride. If Duke could have signed Sears in December, does his recruitment play out the same way?

But the new signing period in December comes with other implications. NCAA D-1 Council chose to create a new official visit period in April through June to supplement the early decision date. That official visit period lies in the middle of the May Evaluation Period. For a school like USC, which recruits nationally, coaches will have to do their evaluations during the week and then fly back to Los Angeles on the weekends they host visitors. 

Who are those potential official visitors in April, May and June? The minority of recruits who have taken the SAT and want to use one of their five official visits to see a school 10 months before signing their letter of intent. As a footnote to this rule change, college coaches still cannot actually contact recruits by phone until April 15, which makes part of this visit period perfunctory. 

The satellite camp circus has also been terminated due to a rule which forces schools to hold camps on campus using 10-evaluation days in June and July. College coaches can attend camps at other colleges, but each day of each camp counts toward their program’s 10-day allotment. Coaches can now openly recruit at these camps, which comically, was not allowed previously. It was an unenforceable rule that no school took seriously. 

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Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh exploited satellite camps and made them into a public relations stunt, but those events also gave colleges more opportunities to evaluate prospects nationwide. Instead of reform, the NCAA opted to completely eliminate the practice. This is a rule that hurts schools in shallow talent pools more than USC, but it’s still another instance where in-person evaluations have been sacrificed. 

Schools like Nebraska, Oregon, Michigan etc. will now have to use the early official visit period and their own camps to gain exposure with prospects from states like California, Texas and Florida. However, the NCAA also passed a rule stating that high school football coaches can no longer work college camps. 

In the past, colleges would put high school coaches on the payroll to work specific camps. In some cases, that would indirectly help pay for their players traveling expenses. That practice will now end. What may become prevalent is companies like Adidas using 7-on-7 team sponsorships to lure players to colleges with Adidas apparel deals. 

While high school football coaches can no longer be paid to work college football camps, there is no rule against apparel companies giving 7-on-7 coaches incentives to ensure their players make it to certain college campuses. In other words, this rule may have inadvertently pushed summer football camps closer to an AAU basketball than away from it. 

Alabama head coach Nick Saban spoke out against the rule at length before the vote was passed by the NCAA D-I Council.

“We're going to change the way we have summer camps,” said Saban. “We can't have high school coaches working summer camps. I mean, it's the most ridiculous thing that I've ever seen.

"So we say we don't want third-parties dealing with players. So we're not going to let the high school coach bring a guy to camp, but some third-party guy can bring him to camp now? Makes no sense at all.”

Gerard Martinez

In large, the camp circuit for colleges will become much more regional-centric. That may force USC to use the early official visit period instead of the Rising Stars Camp to gain an advanced footing with out of state recruits. But as stated, that strategy will have its limitations and drawbacks. 

The “Individuals Associated With Prospective Student-Athletes” impacts high school coaches further. High school, prep school and junior college coaches that have any association with a recruit cannot be hired by a college to an off-field or strength & conditioning position for a two-year period before or after a prospective student-athlete enrolls.

In other words, support staff roles are now off-limits to anyone who could help recruit a prospect by way of their relationship with that prospect. From a high school coach’s perspective, this rule greatly reduces the number of job opportunities at the college level. 

The high school coaching community is now akin to a leper colony. Colleges that have relationships with local high school coaches cannot hire them to support staff roles because of their possible recruiting associations. Colleges from outside the region won’t hire those high school coaches because they’re not familiar with them. 

The word “association” looms large with this rule. The interpretation of that word will be tested as programs work to find loopholes. As it stands, support staff roles will be filled predominately by former players right out of school and young professionals with no coaching experience. Anyone with coaching experience likely recruited or associated with a prospective student-athlete, and that will automatically raise a red flag with compliance departments nationwide. 

Keynodo Hudson, who was hired by USC from Daytona (Fla.) Mainland High School and is now a defensive backs coach at Florida Atlantic, would more than likely still be a high school coach. That would have also had a major impact on Leonard Williams, who signed with USC the year Hudson was hired by Trojans’ interim coach Ed Orgeron. Hudson would later have a hand in landing Nelson Agholor, Quinton Powell, Lamont Simmons, Jamel Cook, Keyshawn Young and others. 

This is obviously bad for USC, right? The truth is USC was already well behind in the support staff arms race started by Ohio State and Alabama almost a decade ago. Under this new rule, Alabama couldn't touch Steve Sarkisian, Tosh Lupoi, Jeremy Pruitt or Kevin Steele. All of the coaches severed in support staff roles for the Tide before being hired on to the full-time assistant staff. 

So while it will be almost impossible for USC to hire a support staff ace recruiter like Gavin Morris in the future, the Trojans won’t be lapped by SEC and Big Ten schools pouring millions of dollars into auxiliary staffs either. But then again, who needs a full-time gig at a college when you can get paid a year’s salary for a few months working the 7-on-7 circuit? 

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