In a normal recruiting calendar, college football recruits can take official visits from September to December leading up to the early signing period. It can be a stressful time for coaches trying to hold their recruiting classes together, especially when a player considers decommitting and flipping his decision.
Whether it’s a change of heart, a stronger relationship at a different school or being wowed on a last-minute visit, flips and decommitments have become a part of the process.
But with a recruiting dead period in place during the coronavirus pandemic — and seemingly no end in sight — this flip season could be much different.
Without the opportunity for players to take visits, programs won’t have the chance to have face-to-face contact or show off an electric game atmosphere on Saturdays.
“Where we’re at right now, I think it’s going to be less [flipping schools] than people think. It’s because guys are like, ‘I have my spot, I’ve got my place,'” one Big Ten assistant coach said. “There’s always going to be a few, but for the most part I think it’s going to be a lot less than we’ve seen just because they’re going to say, ‘I’m good here.’ If they don’t lift [the dead period], kids aren’t going to be giving up and saying, ‘I’m out,’ because they don’t know what’s on the other side.”
Typically, high school recruits can take official visits from April 1 of their junior year through the Sunday before the last Wednesday in June, and then again starting with the opening day of classes of their senior year.
That changed this year when the NCAA created a dead period in March because of the coronavirus pandemic. It has been in place since.
A dead period precludes any in-person contact — no unofficial or official visits — meaning coaches and recruits have missed out on valuable opportunities to build relationships and explore all of their options across the country.
And with the Big Ten, Pac-12 and MAC among the conferences to postpone their seasons, most coaches believe the dead period won’t be lifted any time soon.
Quite a few coaches say they wouldn’t want recruits on campus right now anyway with the possibility of having a recruit and his family travel across the country, interact with the team and spread the virus. Or the opposite: Having the recruit possibly become infected while on a visit. Some coaches don’t see the benefit outweighing the risk.
Plus, the NCAA has to make decisions that would be fair to the majority of its member schools, and because so many teams have postponed seasons, it might not be fair to everyone to allow visits during the season.
“I don’t think [the NCAA] will lift [the recruiting dead period], but if they do, I think mayhem will ensue and you’ll see a bunch of decommitments.”
Anonymous ACC assistant coach
“I don’t see how you can lift this when you have three Power 5 conferences playing and two that aren’t, because you have two conferences who won’t have games or spectators, then that’s not a level playing field,” an ACC assistant coach said. “If the NCAA is about having a fair, equal playing field, you can’t lift visits, you can’t lift the dead period because you have to keep everything level.”
Even if the NCAA lifted its dead period, the ACC assistant noted that each school has differing protocols and safety measures in place that would also make for an uneven playing field. Some schools don’t have dorms open to show, for instance. Some schools have students on campus, some don’t.
Should the dead period be lifted, it could open the door to a flood of decommitments, as prospects would then have the opportunity to visit schools they previously had interest in. Despite the challenges that would come with having recruits on campus, some coaches would push for visits to try to gain an advantage and get those prospects to join their class.
“If they open this up, I honestly think, when COVID hit, the number of commitments was far greater than previous years from March to June because kids panicked and they wanted to take a spot,” the ACC assistant said. “If the dead period goes away and kids are able to visit before signing day, I think the decommitments will go right through the roof. I don’t think they’ll lift it, but if they do, I think mayhem will ensue and you’ll see a bunch of decommitments.”
That said, just because there won’t be visits doesn’t mean we won’t see flips and decommitments. We saw quite a few flips in the 2020 class, especially when the early signing period started in December. Clemson was able to flip four-star Malcolm Greene from LSU when the early signing period started, and it was only the tip of the iceberg that day.
Wide receiver Johnny Wilson switched from Oregon to Arizona State. Wide receiver Rakim Jarrett flipped from LSU to Maryland. Quarterback Chubba Purdy went from Louisville to Florida State. Running back Jase McClellan flipped from Oklahoma to Alabama. And a number of other prospects switched their commitments as well.
There have been past scenarios in which an upper-tier program misses on a target late in the process and looks to poach a prospect from a smaller school at the same position to try to fill that hole. Coaches believe that will still take place even without visits, because those elite programs still carry a ton of weight.
“You’re still talking about a blue blood place that could walk into a smaller program and say, ‘I want that kid out of that smaller school because I didn’t get this kid.’ It’s still an elite program,” the Big Ten assistant said. “There are going to be some kids that say, ‘Screw that,’ but I still think there could be that trickle-down effect just because of the school’s name.”
One SEC assistant coach said the recruiting calendar has sped up so much that most 2021 recruits have already visited campuses. Whether it was last summer, last season or before the dead period was enacted, many recruits had already seen the schools firsthand.
Because of that, and because coaches are now able to call and video-call an unlimited amount — as opposed to once a week during the normal calendar — coaches can see the recruits and their families eye to eye more frequently. That visual contact, though not in person, has been beneficial, and some coaches believe it has led to better relationships, which usually leads to stronger commitments.
“The visit is a little more pomp and circumstance,” the SEC assistant said. “A kid doesn’t go on a visit and say, ‘That visit made my decision.’ He usually comes on the visit and confirms the thought he had with his family, so I think it comes down to the relationship part and who can be intentional in their relationship building.”
The positives don’t outweigh the negatives for coaches, though, as they generally would rather have the ability to have visits and conduct business as usual. Yet they too have adapted to the circumstances around them.
Given the lack of visits, more challenges await as well. Outside of Zoom and video calls, the SEC assistant said he believes that maybe the next best thing will be that his conference, along with the ACC and Big 12, will be playing football games on television. A recruit’s ability to see a team playing could make an impression and help push that team over a Big Ten or Pac-12 school that isn’t in the front of that prospect’s mind.
So is that a concern for those conferences that aren’t playing?
“Hell yeah, absolutely it is,” the Big Ten assistant said. “You worry about the out of sight, out of mind, so from our vantage point, you better be daily, numerous times in contact with your guys on Zoom so I’m getting that eye-to-eye contact. These kids are hearing from us, but they’re not seeing us, and those are two different things, so hell yeah that’s a concern.”
Add that to the plate of concerns coaches still have about how this calendar will be navigated, how scholarship numbers will work and a slew of other unknowns.
Coaches know decommitments and flips are part of the process, but at this point, they are trying to mitigate the number of flips and help create a little bit less uncertainty in a time of complete uncertainty.
That will ultimately fall on the recruits and what type of relationships and trust they have built with the coaches. Then we will know if this is a less stressful stretch leading up to the early signing period or just the cause of more angst.
“Everybody’s in uncharted waters here,” the Big Ten assistant said. “College coaches, players, high school coaches, high school players, so if we all take a deep breath and not panic … Let’s stay in close contact with our recruits, have legitimate, heartfelt conversations. I think it will work out fine.”