Everyone has a different opinion, a reason to approve of or dislike one of the NCAA’s latest wrinkles in the football recruiting process: the spring early official visit period. It began April 1 and runs through June 24, and it offers high school prospects a window before their senior year to take expense-paid visits to campus.
There’s Bishop Miege coach Jon Holmes, who likes that if a recruit “is ready to speed up the decision-making process and wants to try to do it early ... he can.”
There’s Todd Berry, the executive director of the American Football Coaches Association, who believes the period has “given more clarity to students whether a university has interest in them or not.”
And there’s Missouri coach Barry Odom, who bemoans that “recruiting is moving so far in advance.”
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Perhaps Blue Valley North coach Andy Sims put it best: “It seems like you talk to one person, they’re on one side of the fence. You talk to somebody else, they’re on another.”
As the inaugural edition of the early official visit period nears its final month, it seems it will take a few recruiting cycles for college programs and high school coaches advising their prospects to learn how to best utilize this time.
In April 2017, the NCAA announced the addition of the early signing period — which allowed recruits to sign with schools during three days in December, rather than on February’s National Signing Day — and the early official visit period. Odom has been outspoken about disliking both, but his program, which has just two Class of 2019 commitments, has still hosted some official visitors this spring and plans to host more.
“There’s kids that have visited that, because you (as a head coach) can’t go spring recruiting, I haven’t been to their high school,” Odom said.
Alabama coach Nick Saban has said that the early official visit period inhibits programs from properly evaluating players, and Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson believes it favors schools that play in areas with cold weather climates. Berry, the American Football Coaches Association executive director, said a common gripe he hears is that the almost three-month long period is too long.
Odom’s most regular complaint has been that a junior in high school cannot properly have a “college experience.” He has quipped that visits would need to include an age-appropriate movie.
“If they take it in the spring or summer, to them it might be a trip,” Holmes said. “The older they get ... the closer it gets to signing day, the more real it become for these guys.”
Berry agreed that some spring visits might just become “family vacations,” but he also thinks the earlier visit period allows for more transparency in the recruiting process. Schools can only provide 56 official visits in a calendar year — from August 1 to July 31 — and if they aren’t willing to host a recruit with a scholarship offer for an official visit in the spring, then maybe the school isn’t really that interested.
“My top offer, I’d want to take a visit up there my junior year and use the rest of my senior year,” said Bishop Miege receiver Daniel Jackson, a Mizzou target who just finished his sophomore year.
Jackson figures that spring visit to his top program will create a standard for him. He will use that visit to determine what he wants to see in every program his visits in the fall.
Recruits are allowed to use five official visits total but can only use one per school — and it’s smart for them to save some visits for their senior year, in case they pick up high-profile scholarship offers during their senior season, or if a program they are interested in fires its head coach.
“I do like the options,” Jackson said. “(But) it may not benefit all players.”
Because programs can only offer 56 official visits per year, seniors' and juniors' recruiting periods can overlap, and they count against the same number of visits. So programs might prioritize older prospects to fill out immediate needs. Also, if a junior has not secured the necessary grades to be eligible for a Division I scholarship, a team might not want to waste a visit.
Berry has some potential changes in mind to address these issues. He said he would like to see the official visit count be limited to individual classes. He also thinks it might be best if only recruits with certain SAT or ACT test scores are eligible to take official visits. Right now, no test score is required to take an official visit.
“There’s a lot of things that we have to really look at and navigate through,” Odom said. “That’s anything. You go through a year or two, try to make adjustments, always try to make it better.”
So college football programs will learn how to best utilize this period, and high school coaches will figure out how to best advise their players during this period.
One thing that is already clear: The recruiting cycle now begins earlier, so much so that Park Hill coach Josh Hood feels the senior season has “become obsolete for a lot of athletes,” including Simone Award winner Ronnie Bell. He had a standout final season at the high school level, but he struggled to gain traction as a football recruit. It took until mid-December for Michigan to become the first Division I football program to offer him a scholarship.
To counteract this development, Hood is telling sophomores to take the ACT. He’s telling freshmen they might as well, too.