Commentary

How to improve football recruiting

Originally Published: June 2, 2014
By ESPN.com

We love college football recruiting, but we also are the first to admit it could be better. From an early signing period to more defined no-contact periods, there are plenty of ways to make it a better process. Recruiting experts Jeremy Crabtree and Tom Luginbill give their 10 suggestions on how the NCAA could improve the football recruiting process for coaches and players alike.


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Jeremy Crabtree

1. Early signing period a must

It's mind-boggling in today's recruiting culture that an early signing period doesn't exist. There are early signing periods in basketball and other major sports, but the football community hasn't been able to get its act together to change things. Florida State recruiting coordinator Tim Brewster estimates most schools have more than 50 percent of their classes completed by the start of the season. Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin estimates millions of dollars could be saved because coaches wouldn't have to fly all over the country baby-sitting prospects who have been committed for quite some time. If so many prospects are set on their schools, why not allow them to sign a letter of intent after Sept. 1 of their senior year, or during the same window the mid-term junior college prospects can sign in December? The logistics of when to have the signing period could be debated, but creating one shouldn't be. Coaches at all levels and in all parts of the country agree that a lot of what ails college football recruiting -- especially the epidemic of decommitments -- would be cured by the ability to sign early.

[+] EnlargeRashaan Evans
AP Photo/Butch DillSigning day is always a huge event, but it would be even better if there was an early signing period in addition to the traditional one in February.

2. Let the visits start early, too

If you're going to allow prospects to sign earlier, then you have to start the official visit process sooner. So many recruits are on college campuses for junior days and unofficial visits in the spring already, so let's allow them to take paid official visits during the spring evaluation period from April 15 to May 31. And while we're at it, coaches and program representatives should be able to show recruits around town whether the prospects are on official or unofficial visits. Right now, that's restricted to official trips. But if a recruit is paying money to visit, he should be able to see what he wants to see.

3. Read the fine print

Two MAC coaches suggested this one to me: Send out written offers to prospects that include an expiration date. It makes sense. If you're an elite player a school is willing to wait on, then you'll have the expiration date set for signing day or even after it. But it also helps eliminate situations when a recruit thinks he still has an offer and tries to commit to a school but is turned down. It would spell out exactly how long a prospect has to accept the offer and would help clear up the murky is-my-offer-still-good situations.

4. Let kids be kids

One of the biggest black eyes on recruiting has been the emergence of schools offering middle-school prospects. Make it against the rules to do that. A lot of schools aren't standing by their offers years down the road anyway, and it puts high school coaches in horrible situations to have to deal with bigheaded 15-year-olds who have never played a down of varsity football.

5. Follow basketball's lead

To borrow a rule from college basketball, allow electronic transmissions beginning June 15 following a prospect's sophomore season. Football coaches don't want to go all in with unlimited text messages like in basketball, but many would like the ability to direct message, email or send other forms of electronic messages to prospects earlier in the process. That's a must if you're going to have an early signing period and early official visits. Here's another one to adopt: Currently, during the spring evaluation period, schools are allowed two on-campus evaluations of a prospect but coaches can't talk to prospects unless they "bump" into them. Let's remove the bump rule and allow coaches to have actual conversations with prospects while on the high school campus, like they do in basketball.

6. Let's go camping

In the past, recruiters were allowed to attend events such as combines, camps and 7-on-7 tournaments during the spring evaluation period and count that as one of their evaluations of a prospect. Then the NCAA reversed course and outlawed it. It's time to again allow recruiters to scout prospects at certified events. This, too, is done in basketball.

7. On the road again

The NCAA doesn't allow head coaches to go on the road in the spring evaluation period to recruit, and many of them would like that changed -- with some limitations. Go ahead and allow head coaches to designate 14 days when they can go on the road and recruit during the evaluation period. This allows the coaches to still be around for team meetings, player finals and spring booster club and fundraising tours, but also get the much-needed face time with recruits and high school coaches.

8. Give me a break

Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables can't remember the last time he had a vacation. As much as he would love to spend some quality time with his wife and four kids before the start of practices in August, he can't because recruiting never stops. So create a dead period from the third Wednesday in July through the first Wednesday in August, where no on-campus communication is allowed. Coaches can get some time off, and prospects can get a break from recruiting.

9. Let coaches work it out

More and more coaches want the ability to work with prospects on the field when recruits come for official visits. Coaches pore through hours of film before bringing a recruit in for an official visit, but the best evaluation they would get would come from putting him through a one-hour workout and physical while on campus.

10. Close the camp loophole

Seven years ago, the NCAA limited where football programs can run high school camps -- basically any out-of-state location that sits more than 50 miles from campus. However, a loophole allows coaching staffs to work at -- but not hold -- other camps outside the 50-mile radius. Schools from every conference except the SEC have been using that loophole to their advantage. It's time for that to change. Pull the plug on the out-of-state camps because it gives schools an unfair advantage.


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Tom Luginbill

1. Cut down to three recruiting periods

Simplify the calendar for coaches by only having evaluation, dead and evaluation/contact periods. Apply them to the months that are most conducive to allowing the coaches to evaluate, and define it clearly. Currently there are random pockets of dead and quiet periods sprinkled throughout the calendar that make no sense. Allow more evaluation and contact early in the process, and taper it the closer you get to national signing day.

2. Allow coaches to attend all-star games

Coaches are expected to make proper evaluations of prospects with the hope of projecting accurately, but they are not allowed to evaluate the top players when matched up against other elite athletes for four days out of the year. If you want to make this a non-contact period, fine, but at least allow the coaches to evaluate in person to aid in the recruiting process.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesIn order to improve football recruiting, coaches like Urban Meyer should be able to have more one-on-one contact with prospects.

3. A national combine for coaches

This is a no-brainer: two or three days with on-field testing, drills and 7-on-7. Allow coaches to regulate it, and police it however you want. Coaches would have no problem with the NCAA being in attendance. Hold the combine in late spring/early summer. Only college coaches and player personnel would be allowed to attend. Currently, college coaches are not permitted to attend off-campus camps and combines.

4. Summer vacation

There should be a six-week dead period in July and the first two weeks of August. Give the college coaches, prospects, parents and guardians a break. Allow everyone to catch their breath and, most importantly, allow the college coaches to have some semblance of a life away from their job. Allow for college programs to complete their on-campus camps and then prepare for the upcoming season with reasonable hours.

5. Allow earlier official visits

With verbal commitments taking place earlier than ever, why not allow kids to better educate themselves on programs earlier in the process? This would help programs that are located in remote areas of the country where it can be difficult for prospects to take unofficial visits because they have no way of getting on campus on their own dime.

6. Let coaches go on the road in spring

Does it seem at all strange that the person in charge of a program is unable to go on the road and evaluate the very prospects who could determine their fate? This is often the time when underclassmen and senior-to-be prospects are identified or seen for the first time. An eye test can be performed and the head coach should have that choice of whether to be involved.

7. We need to talk

Everyone expects coaches to make accurate projections on kids. The biggest reason prospects don't pan out isn't necessarily due to a lack of physical ability. It's all of the unknown or unconfirmed variables about the prospect's makeup that the current rules make so difficult for coaches to uncover. It is a high-risk/high-reward process. Why not lower the risk by allowing coaches to get more face-to-face interaction to try and uncover red flags and make better judgments?

8. Implement an early signing period

It's coming at some point, but it needs to be sooner rather than later, with several clearly defined stipulations that fairly favor both the program and the prospect. However, an early signing date isn't as black and white as people want to believe. Prospects need to be protected against unforeseen circumstances, like coaching changes, if you employ an early signing date in the summer, as opposed to December. This period would likely lead to our above suggestion of allowing official visits prior to Sept. 1 of senior year. The downside is this would create an even wider gap between the haves and have-nots in college football, as not all programs have the same resources or stature.

9. Let schools pay for underclassman visits

One of the biggest complaints of college coaches during the evaluation process is the struggle to get prospects to come to camp prior to extending a scholarship offer. Coaches want to be able to work with kids one-on-one and make vital assessments before committing to them. This can help eliminate a mountain of possible evaluation errors. This also would allow prospects to make the same assessments of a program and its coaching staff. Currently, prospects are on their own in terms of cost to attend, which can be problematic. Another possible solution here would be to allow prospects to use one of their five official visits for a camp spot if they choose.

10. One set of rules for everyone

Across the country, conferences are not playing with the same deck of cards. Whether it's oversigning, "guest coaching" at high school camps outside of your region or junior college transfer rules, everyone is playing by a different set of rules. That needs to change. This is why some are proposing that college football find a way to disengage from the NCAA to legislate and regulate on its own.

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