A week ago, the NCAA Division I Council adopted a package of recruiting rules changes that will go into effect if it is approved by the NCAA Board of Directors on April 26th. As an advocate for student-athlete welfare and a participant in the NCAA ‘s legislative process, I feel the need to share my thoughts on not only this rules package, but also the current state of Division 1 football recruiting as a whole.
To start, let’s talk about the package in three parts: The good, the bad, and the ugly.
1. EARLY OFFICIAL VISITS!!!! (April, May, June)
I have campaigned for early official visits for years, and this adamant belief in the need for them is rooted in my own experience. As a high school junior, I committed to the University of Oklahoma and completely ended my recruitment, even though I had never even gotten a chance to visit Stanford, one of my other top choices. Stanford is in the opposite corner of the nation as Apopka, Florida, and I could not afford to go visit campus. September 1st was the start of paid official visits, but I couldn’t wait until then. I committed early partially because I was ready, but also because I felt like I had to. The reality of the recruiting landscape is that the timeline has been moved up. Earlier offers translates into earlier commitments, which result in spots being filled sooner. I felt that if I didn’t commit, someone else would, and I would be stripped of a chance to fulfill a childhood dream. I am so thankful I chose Oklahoma, but I was not able to make a fully-informed decision due to outdated recruiting regulations. I am so grateful that the NCAA has voted to allow earlier visits! In doing so, we are allowing prospective student-athletes to make the most informed decision possible.
2. Hard Cap on Signees
A signing class has now been limiting to just 25 people, and I believe this is a win for student-athletes. All too often, we hear stories of young men who are left without a scholarship because a school oversigned and then were forced to make tough decisions on who to award a scholarship to. This rule effectively eliminates oversigning, which is a big step in the right direction.
3. An extra coach!
Some may roll their eyes and label this another exorbitant expenditure, but I believe it is absolutely necessary. The player to coach ratio in football is far greater than in most other sports. Adding another on-field, full-time assistant provides student-athletes with better quality instruction and a more personal experience.
4. Satellite Camp Regulation
Outlawing satellite camps entirely was a gross overstep of boundaries, for satellite camps do greatly benefit high school recruits as much as they do colleges. That being said, satellite camps did need some regulation, for their previous format was rife with opportunities for exploitation and loopholes for shady practices to thrive. Restricting camps to four year institutions prevents possible nefarious dealings with the high schools of prospective athletes, while limiting the total number of days (but allowing greater flexibility in scheduling) should go a long way to eliminate overuse and exploitation.
December Signing Day
I was all for an early signing day. Most everyone is in agreement that it is necessary. Myself, and many other athletes, have advocated for an early signing day, but we wanted it BEFORE OUR SENIOR YEAR OF HIGH SCHOOL (Late July or August). An increasing number of student-athletes are committing earlier (due to being offered earlier), and these athletes are ready to make their decision final. A great many want to officially end their recruitment before their senior seasons start so that they can focus all of their effort on their last season of true amateurism and enjoy their time with their high school programs. This desire was clearly communicated, yet the Council ended up going with a December signing day that does ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to meet the expressed needs of student-athletes. This is a six-week bump that “saves” athletes from having to go through the recruiting process at the only time where they actually have time to focus on it. I believe this change will have minimal effect and is entirely self-serving.
IAWP Hiring Restrictions
“Individual Associated With a Prospect.” That’s what the mysterious acronym stands for. In an effort to eliminate a loophole that allows for shady player-coach “package deals”, the NCAA decided to burn the bridge from high school to college entirely. High school coaches are no longer allowed to be hired to off-field coaching staff positions without a two year recruiting penalty. Essentially, the NCAA just banned high school coaches from its ranks. It is extremely rare for a high school coach to be awarded a position coaching job. Rather, many of these men get in the door through off-field positions like Analyst or Director of Player Development. After a time of tutelage, they transition to on-field coaching roles. This natural progression has now been outlawed because of a fear of malicious exploitation. We could’ve fixed the issue in less drastic ways, but instead we went nuclear and laid our high school coaching community to waste. This is the best parallel I can use to explain: The Death Star explosion. This would be like if the Empire self-detected the tiny weakness within its design, and, rather than simply closing that stupid port, blew up the entire space station. Nerd rant complete.
As the son of a high school coach and a former athlete that is very grateful for the high school coaching community, this component of the package was unpalatable to me.
The Bigger Issue: The Culture
While I am obviously upset with some components of this package, I am very relieved that we did something. It’s not perfect, but there are some really good things in here. That being said, there are larger, more threatening issues within the realm of football recruiting that need to be addressed soon for the good of college athletics. To me, these issues trace back to the recruiting culture, and are affecting our nation’s culture as a whole.
A Culture of Unaccountability
On both sides, our words mean nothing. Players commit and decommit every day. College dole out way more offers than they can accept, and often times either label the offers “non-committable” or they pull them at a later date. No one is held accountable. The word “commitment” has become click bait for likes and retweets, rather than a principle of life that is to be treated with reverence. What are we teaching our kids? That a man’s word is cheap and meaningless. On both sides, we are committed until a better opportunity comes along. A school from a better conference. A player with more stars. College football recruiting is entirely devoid of accountability, and is making a mockery of “Commitment.”
*cue the latest ridiculous Bleacher Report Commitment video*
A Culture of Egotism
The insatiable ego of the adolescent is but a weakness to be exploited. For the 18 months leading up to Signing Day, coaches and fans alike do their best to woo the top-rated recruits to their school by any means necessary. We treat 17 year olds like celebrities, praising their every move, showering them with attention, and then begging them to give our school a chance. Through our actions, we as a society are validating a notion that has been slowly solidifying since the day they found that first letter in the mailbox: that their value is found in their athletic ability.
The funny thing is most high schools kids don’t even necessarily deserve it. Hear me out. Recruiting isn’t about who the BEST football players are. It’s about finding the players with the greatest POTENTIAL. We are recruiting kids based upon what we THINK they COULD do, not necessarily what they have already accomplished. Ask the high school coaches. Yes, sometimes the best football players are the highest rated recruits, but many times the best high school football players don’t have the measurables or ceiling to excel at the next level. Some of the best 17-year-old football players in the nation are tapped out, and by the time they are 21, they cannot compare to guys with freakish athletic ability that finally received nutrition, coaching, and strength & conditioning development once they got to college.
So, in essence, we drown high schoolers in undeserved adoration and inflate their egos to whatever size necessary to solicit a signature (often accompanied with a puppy, parachute, or zombie apocalypse video). And then, they get to campus, their senses dulled by the intoxicating cocktail of worship and attention, and we are surprised and upset when they are selfish, egotistical, and entitled, though it was us who made them that way. By unashamedly appealing to the egos of kids that are still in a fragile stage of emotional development, we are actually crippling them and creating the problems of our future in the process. In the name of wins and losses, we are willing to tell kids whatever they want to hear, even if it’s not what they need to hear. We have to do better as fans and coaches by valuing the potential man more than the potential player, and then translating that priority system to the way we recruit.
Obviously, I believe a great many coaches do it the right way, as I believe that there are a lot of incredible young people entering the world of college football. But, when I look around at some of the poisonous cultural issues that are plaguing college football as a whole, I trace it back to where it all started: The Recruitment.
Develop men. Win Games. In that order.