Last summer, the NCAA adopted a new rule that went unnoticed by many people. Well, they're starting to notice now.
High school football players have long been allowed to receive written offers from colleges beginning on Sept. 1 of their junior years. However, that changed this summer. The new bylaw has pushed back that date to Aug. 1, prior to their senior year.
The new rule was put forth with good intentions. Roughly 10 years ago, schools such as Florida State would see most of its class filled up in the week prior to National Signing Day. Many prospects took all five of their allotted official visits after their senior season had ended and then would decide on their future destination. However, the landscape has changed dramatically.
Many programs have most of their classes filled by the time the senior season starts. High school players are not able to use their official visits to check out their options, as they risk losing their spot in their class should they look around. It has forced many juniors in high school to make very early decisions that, in some cases, they were not ready to make. So the NCAA stepped in, hoping to curb the problem by moving back the date the players could receive written offers.
In an unforeseen development, it appears the rule may have backfired on the NCAA, and actually sparked recruiting to start even earlier now. Though written offers are not binding, they gave the schools some sense of accountability when handing out offers. Now, it seems the verbal offers are replacing the written offers, going out at a much faster pace than in the past and being used carelessly.
"It used to be that, on Sept. 1, we would FedEx a handful of offers to just our top overall junior targets," a recruiting coordinator at a West Coast school told Rivals.com. "We obviously can't do that anymore. Players have always been allowed to receive verbal offers at any point and, to be honest, I know we are giving out more of those this year.
"We don't really expect many players to commit right away when we verbally offer. That sort of helps us hedge our bets. We don't want to be behind the other schools when it comes to offering so we tell the players they have an offer. Some of those guys, they aren't necessarily guys we are going to take. We are still evaluating a lot of them but we need to keep up with the Joneses."
CHANGING THE GAME
Bylaw 22.214.171.124 reads: Written Offer of Aid Before Signing Date. Prior to August 1 of a prospective student-athlete's senior year in high school, an institution shall not provide a written offer of athletically related financial aid or indicate in writing to the prospective student-athlete that an athletically related grant-in-aid will be offered by the institution. On or after August 1 of a prospective student-athlete's senior year in high school, an institution may indicate in writing to a prospective student-athlete that an athletically related grant-in-aid will be offered by the institution; however, the institution may not permit the prospective student-athlete to sign a form indicating his or her acceptance of such an award before the initial signing date in that sport in the National Letter of Intent program. (Revised: 4/29/10 effective 8/1/10)
A Midwest recruiting coordinator echoed that sentiment.
"These guys, you want them to always feel like they have an offer," he said. "Written offers don't mean much really, but they give them something to show their coaches and everyone that they have an offer from us. Without us being able to send those out, we can offer more kids without it really coming back to bite us. We don't get the bad PR if a kid tries to commit and shows everybody our offer on paper. We can sort of just blame things on a miscommunication. We don't necessarily tell kids explicitly that they have offers but we don't do anything to make them think otherwise."
With the lack of written offers, the recruiting process can be a bit confusing for players. In many cases, they do not truly know where they could possibly commit should they choose to do so.
"It's definitely confusing," San Diego (Calif.) Westview tight end Taylor McNamara said. "I don't like the rule at all. It's kind of hard to know. You want to know where you're wanted most and it's really hard to tell now. It makes it hard because you don't really know where you can go. It would be a lot easier if they had the written offers. You wouldn't be wondering if you could commit to a school or not. ...
"I did get one letter but I wouldn't really call it an offer. It was a letter telling me that they were going to offer me when I was eligible to receive it, as soon as it was allowed. It was kind of weird."
McNamara said one school in particular left him feeling a bit in the dark. He does not fault Ohio State, though, as he feels the NCAA has tied the hands of colleges.
"With Ohio State, it was really confusing," he said. "I think they went out of their way to make sure that they didn't break any NCAA rules. When I left, I didn't know if I had an offer or not. They said they loved me and everything. When I left, my coach told me that I did (have an offer) and that he talked to their coaches.
"It was really confusing leaving because I didn't really know if I had one. I've talked to them since then and they still haven't said directly that I have an offer. They definitely treat me like I do, though. I went out there for a visit and they really wanted me to come there, so I'd say I have an offer."
It makes it hard because you don't really know where you can go. It would be a lot easier if they had the written offers. You wouldn't be wondering if you could commit to a school or not.
- San Diego Westview junior tight end Taylor McNamara
Danville (Calif.) San Ramon Valley junior quarterback Zach Kline made an early commitment to California but he also says it can be hard at times to know whether he has an offer or not.
"Cal verbally offered me in September," he said. "They said that's all they were allowed to do right now. I've always wanted to go there so I committed pretty much right away. I'm not going anywhere else but some schools still try to recruit me. Cal and Oregon State are the only ones who have actually said the words that they were offering me, but others have basically said it.
"I see guys that say they have like 40 offers and I want to know how they know. Do they have some kind of paperwork? Anybody can say they have all these offers and nobody really knows. It's just confusing all around."
Though the intent of the new rule was to curb the pressure to commit being put on juniors, Brenham (Texas) coach Glen West has not seen that happen. Colleges have come by to check out defensive tackle Malcom Brown, linebacker Timothy Cole and running back Troy Green, as well as a few other class of 2012 prospects.
"I'm not crazy about a junior in high school already thinking about where he's going to play college football when he's got another whole year," West said. "I think the system is totally twisted where we're worried about where a junior is wanting to go."
West, who is widely known for going out of his way to help his players in the recruiting process, made an interesting comparison of college coaches recruiting his junior players during the season.
"I'll tell you this - there's not a college coach that would want an agent to come in and start talking to their players about what round they're going to go in in the draft in the middle of the football season," he said. "That's exactly what's happening to us, though. I don't want my juniors saying where they're going to go because they don't need to worry about that. …
"We've even had one college coach tell our kids, 'You can start four years for us.' This is a junior in high school. I told the kid, 'I'm not sure you're even going to start for us your senior year.' There's no way (the college coach) can say that. Now look how much the high school coach has over this kid when he's already been told he can start four years for them. We're just out of whack. We've kind of told our kids, 'Let's just concentrate on what we are doing here, and then when the season's over, we're looking at all the recruiting stuff.' "