- Jeremy Crabtree, RecruitingNation
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Most of the nation's top high school recruits believe the College Football Playoff is the best way to determine the national champion, think athletes should receive a stipend, want an early signing period and have been harassed by fans on social media.
ESPN.com conducted a wide-ranging survey of the top 300 high school football recruits in the nation and received more than 150 responses. The survey was conducted over a three-week period in June and July, and players were asked about their views on college athletics today and their experiences as a heavily recruited player.
When it comes to big-picture topics facing college football, 60 percent of the recruits said college football players should be allowed to unionize, and 86 percent believed they should receive a stipend. In a follow-up interview, four-star Texas A&M tight end commitment Jordan Davis of Houston Clear Lake High School said he supports a stipend because "if they're selling our jerseys and playing with us on video games and things of that nature, we should receive something for it." Four-star receiver and Duke commitment Keyston Fuller of Griffin (Georgia) High School agreed and said college players should get something because "of all the media and attention college athletes bring to the universities."
More than 70 percent of the recruits were in favor of the new College Football Playoff compared to the traditional BCS bowl system. The respondents don't completely agree with the playoff format, as 53 percent believed eight teams should be involved and 26 percent wanted more than eight. Only around 20 percent supported the current system of only four teams.
An early signing period has been a hot topic in recruiting for years, and with the Collegiate Commissioners Association forming a committee to research the benefits of such a signing period, it's definitely on the minds of the prospects who are going through the process now.
Fifty-eight percent of the recruits thought an early signing period would be a good thing, and 64 percent believed that period should be after Sept. 1 of a recruit's senior year, ahead of other options like after signing day of the previous class or after Thanksgiving of a player's senior year as proposed by SEC coaches. An overwhelming 96 percent of respondents agreed that recruits should be allowed to take official visits in the summer before their senior year, which is something the CCA committee is looking into.
"I think an early signing period would help definitely, especially with quarterbacks," said four-star quarterback and recent USC commit Sam Darnold of San Clemente, California. "To be able to make an official visit and not have to spend all that money to take an unofficial would be helpful, too, because so many kids are already committing early now. It's not just quarterbacks. It's all of the positions that would be helped with this. Getting the visits done early would save families thousands of dollars on travel."
With so many recruits being extremely active on social media, 83 percent of the respondents believe that college coaches should be able to send unlimited social media messages. But 81 percent said the messages they receive from fans on Twitter and Facebook don't influence them one way or the other when it comes to their choice of schools.
A number of prospects expressed concern about the lengths that some fans will go to try to recruit them to their school, though. Sixty-two percent said they have had a fan who follows them on social media harass them, and some fans have even gone to great lengths to get in touch with the recruits. UCLA four-star quarterback commitment Josh Rosen of St. John Bosco in Bellflower, California, said a Michigan fan somehow got a hold of his cellphone and called him regularly, and uncommitted four-star receiver Christian Kirk of Saguaro High School in Scottsdale, Arizona, said that fans of multiple schools have called him at all hours of the day and promised him money and girls if he would commit to that school.
Recruits were also asked about the head coaches they've interacted with. Alabama coach Nick Saban was mentioned more than any other as the most intimidating. One respondent said he "almost couldn't walk into Saban's office" because he was so nervous. Ohio State's Urban Meyer was second, followed by Texas coach Charlie Strong, Florida State's Jimbo Fisher and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio.
On the other hand, Penn State coach James Franklin was by far the most mentioned coach when recruits were asked which coach was the most convincing. A number of recruits also mentioned Florida coach Will Muschamp, Clemson's Dabo Swinney, Stanford's David Shaw, Auburn's Gus Malzahn and Ole Miss' Hugh Freeze.