This is the fourth or fifth time that I have started this and then re-read it to toss most of it in the digital trash. Recruiting reform is a difficult subject. The facts are supposed to be plain, and the official NCAA site will be linked later on in this piece. Suffice it to say that as we have heard and seen thousands of times the process of recruiting, committing, and signing letters of intent have two different and completely skew processes. There is the “official” NCAA process and the other process, the one that actually gets results for programs and players. One is official, neat, clean, has lots of guidance, rules and such. Then the other has its own guidance, rules, and process. They just don’t complement each other much. Fixing the problem is not some easy dive into an online essay. It’s the Gordian Knot, and like Alexander the solution has more to do with eliminating the knot, and not untying it. We are just trying to open a discussion on the problem, not solve it and the national debt to go with it.
Look, the polls for this series haven’t been heavily responded to, it’s summer, and everyone would probably normally be excited about going to the beach, family vacations, heading to the mountains for cool breezes and all of the normal post Memorial Day activity. What surprised me were some of the answers, especially the last two polls. The last one really piqued my interest because even though a bunch of folks didn’t really respond, the vast majority said that either there was no way to implement one so can the idea, or they’d like to see something but that current circumstances, including the money involved in the current system would make it impossible.
That abject surrender to the first layer of the Recruiting Game’s inherent corruptibility is almost stunning. Like the basic concept, or not, just surrendering to the current mess is going to guarantee perpetual twilight for 85 to 90% of football programs. If the current concept of college football is continued, that is.
Before we launch into the spitball list, let’s review some of the material that has exposed the disconnect. First, most people don’t know how recruiting works, anyway. It’s a process that involves parents, guardians, high school coaches, and college coaches. The main scenario is supposed to go like this:
Parents of promising young athlete, currently as young as 13 and in 7th grade, send official recruiting notices to the NCAA (often through high school coaches) and the official process launches. The NCAA has pages of rules regarding recruiting, who can talk to whom, when, and under what circumstances. It all looks very much like blind policy spilled out at high altitude with little in the way of actual procedure being disclosed.
There are recruiting dead periods, live periods, and explanations of the difference between official visits and unofficial visits. The NCAA goes into the Commitment and Letter of Intent policy (Isn’t it funny that a DIV III player gets to sign a “Celebratory Letter of Intent” – they have no scholarships). Look, we’ve spent days and days of research on this. We have produced a special recruiting series of podcasts that go over many of the issues involved. Three things are plain and frankly very painful:
- The current recruiting process is supposed to be regularized and transparent. The NCAA rules are policies and the standard operating procedures are hard coded into the process. The student athlete fills out the forms listed in the corner of the web page. And the process is supposed to be the process; but it really isn’t.
- Players want to be known to specific programs. There are thousands of players and only 351 scholarship programs on the board. How does a player get noticed? How does the high school coach get a college scout to show up and see a game?
- Coaches and recruiters can easily step over the line, and often don’t even know that they are. There is a semblance of regularization in this part of the process, but the rules are often tweaky and weird. There is no one place to go to find the universal ‘everyone must follow this scouting and identification process’ set guidelines.
The problem in all of this is that the high altitude top down approach works in some fashion or other, but mostly other. It’s honored more in a set of forms and milestones to be complete, and everything in the middle of those milestones is more of a black box than an actual process. There are referrals, coaching contacts (If you’re from a small school with an unknown coach, good luck getting anything ‘meaningful’, camps (Where does that money come from?), film (highlights are recorded and edited by someone using something which means more money or ‘money’), arranging for program visits official visits are paid for by the programs, unofficial visits are paid for by the parents – I won’t comment further.)
In short, it’s a game, and a big expensive and often unfair one at that. So, what should be done about it? We are going to present the tops of four scenarios for the poll. Think about it hard and pick one. If you think that you have something solid, please comment. Several of you have in the past, please respond, here. This might just be the most important thing that the sports media world doesn’t really want to visit and should.
So how does College Football Reform and Regularize the recruiting process? Let’s start by scrapping everything on the NCAA pages down to the first page and rebuild a process that is the same for everyone with no escapes or side dodges. Provide detailed step by step instructions for parents/guardians and players on how to do the job of applying to play football somewhere.
What goes with that?
This poll is closed
A: Make every high school and university program stick to that specific process with no operations outside the rules. Make camps and exposure programs official parts of the process.
B: Do A, but also limit the access to the players until after their Junior season in high school. Do not allow players to commit until after their Senior season.
C: Do A, but limit direct access to players until after the Senior season, and then do away with commitments, go back to one signing period around New Years.
D: Do A and C or A and B, but make sure that everyone must honor their word – both program and player. If a program offers a player it must follow through if the player commits – aka immediate Letter of Intent.
Those are just some ideas based on a plan that would implement one uniform process with no skew or parallel methods, with a set of policies and standard operating procedures that account for the camps and program contacts. Everything must be completely transparent and the NCAA recruiting governance involved in every step. There are lots of pieces in place, this is about building a complete process that is immediately answerable.
We know, we might be chasing moon dust; but we did get to the Moon once, and we do have dust from it. A level recruiting playing field is critical to pulling teams out of the program twilight.