COMMENTARY: A subtle shift in strategy

THIS WEEKEND IS SHAPING up as the biggest recruiting weekend of the year for Washington State, with double-digit visitors looking probable. What may not be apparent -- even to close followers of the Cougar recruiting scene -- is that these official visits also represent some subtle changes in recruiting strategy employed this year by the Cougar coaching staff.

It wasn't readily apparent, not at first.

Temperatures dropped, leaves changed and as the Cougs moved into the heart of their '06 schedule, a trend began to emerge -- the Cougs were bringing in fewer official visitors on Wazzu game days.

The reaction from some was both understandable and immediate -- muttering, grumbling, using one fist to shake at the sky, building a lean-to with the other in case the heavens were indeed falling.

Such consternation developed because in recent times, WSU tended to play host to a fairly steady stream of prep and JC prospects during the fall.

But there have been indications the past few years Washington State was leaning toward a shift under Bill Doba, and eschewing the status quo. Putting together one (or maybe more) big, blowout official visit weekends with a larger group all coming in one weekend after the season.

Another impetus for the change may have been the arrival in Pullman this year of recruiting coordinator Greg Peterson, who replacing Eugene-bound Robin Pflugrad. In the previous 12 years at K-State before he came to Pullman, Peterson had helped craft many a fine K-State class built upon the post-regular season visit weekends.

ONE QUESTION BEGS: Why not schedule the big weekend during the football season when the stadium is rocking and the weather is temperate?

The answer probably lies in the fact coaches can't devote undivided attention to prospects on a game weekend.

Coaches certainly see the recruits during those weekend, but time is tight. Squeezing in a position meeting on Saturday is usually a possibility. And until Sunday rolls around, the coaches' mindset is trained upon getting that W.

Often, a recruit arrives late Friday or even Saturday -- the result being he spends a little over 24 hours on campus -- 24 hours in which the coaches the are immersed in pre- and post-game duties.

On on Sundays, there's even more work for the coaches than on Saturday, breaking down game tape and prepping for the week ahead. And there are planes, trains and automobiles for the recruits to catch, and sometimes the schedule calls for an early Sunday departure.

There are positives and negatives to after-season official visit weekends, but considering the landscape at Washington State, there might just be more benefits.

First, the time coaches are able to spend with the recruits is greatly enhanced. A coach himself can pick up the recruit at the airport, have a leisurely lunch and give a campus tour. Those little things simply aren't possible -- for a staff as a whole -- on a game weekend.

Another benefit is timing. Bringing in recruits in September promises great Palouse weather and beautiful scenery. October isn't too shabby either. But it's also early in the recruiting process, and many prospects aren't ready to make a verbal commitment. And if the end of September doesn't sound all that early, consider how long ago it seems since Washington State played Southern Cal. It was Sept. 30, Week Five.

Also to be taken into consideration is that after a fall visit, a prospect can and often does take several more trips as recruiting pushes toward February's Letter of Intent Day. Plus, there are all the in-homes and phone calls from competing schools.

One of the drawbacks to the late season official is, of course, the prospect missing out on the game-day experience. And there's no question, it knocks recruits' socks off -- Washington State's ratio of turning official vistors into LOI signees is off the charts.

But it is also our opinion, in talking with recruits day in and day out, the one thing on a visit that has the least long term impact is the actual game day experience, be it a few weeks or months down the road -- and be it Washington State, USC, Oregon, Tennessee or Florida.

In fact, we've found there are clear reasons for why a recruit makes a commitment, and the stadium experience isn't one of them. The primary reasons a prospect commits have to do with the coaches, program, depth chart and comfort factor.

How this big official visit weekend the second week of December will influence what faxes roll into the Bohler Gym offices on Signing Day is yet to be determined. But there are subtle, and very interesting, changes afoot at Washington State. And one of those is on display this recruiting weekend.

Spend some of your Sunday, and start off your work week, with as we'll be working the phone lines after the official visits come to a close later this weekend to bring you complete coverage.

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