College football recruiting notebook: NIL arms race and the wild post-dead period

College Football

June was the first time college football prospects could take visits in nearly a year because of the recruiting dead period from COVID-19, and it was as hectic as coaches thought it would be.

With prospects visiting each week, the majority of coaches are now taking vacations during the dead period in July just to recover. One personnel director told ESPN he slept at his house seven times in June and slept at the facilities the rest of the time because he was so busy.

Those visits are over now, as the dead period started June 28 and runs through July 24. We spoke to coaches and personnel directors to look at how wild June was. We also asked them how they plan on using unofficial visits to try to bring recruits back on campus during the season and how difficult it will be to convince recruits to come back on their own dime.

We also asked coaches and personnel directors about name, image and likeness. Is a Miami booster’s announcement that he plans to put together a fund to give each Hurricanes football player $6,000 a trend that will spread to other schools, or is it a flash in the pan?

The wild month of June

Because it was the first month recruits could visit, schools were hosting unofficial visitors during the week and official visitors on the weekend, and sometimes a little bit of both at the same time. Official visitors can have their travel and accommodations paid for, while unofficial visitors visit on their own dime.

One Power 5 personnel director said his school hosted more than 36 recruits on official visits in June. Factoring in the family members who come along on the visits and unofficial visitors who pop in, and around 100 people visited each week. Each school is permitted to have only 52 official visitors per year, so to have 36 in one month is more than the coaches typically see.

“It was like planning a wedding every weekend,” one personnel director said. “It was nuts.”

The official visitors were the main priority for coaches, who are trying to get the 2022 prospects caught up in their process and on campus. But that didn’t mean underclassmen weren’t trying to take unofficial visits as well.

Coaches also juggled different classes, trying to show 2023 and 2024 prospects they were still coveted while also making 2022 recruits a priority.

“It was like planning a wedding every weekend. It was nuts.”

One personnel director on the end of the recruiting dead period

“It didn’t slow the flow of unofficial drop-ins or even if they tell you they’re coming, you can’t really say, ‘Thanks, but no thanks, we have more important things to do,'” one personnel director said. “You have to figure out a way to execute that while keeping all these balls in the air, primarily the official visitors. But you can’t screw up, or skimp, on a high-profile underclassman coming in, and you need to do everything you can with them so they’ll come back.”

In addition, coaches were holding camps, meaning even more prospects and families were on campus. Another Power 5 personnel director said he worked from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. for 29 straight days trying to organize everything.

“I don’t know what our final camp numbers were, but towards the end, we were having 450 [people] a day,” the personnel director said. “Multiply that by 10 camps, and that doesn’t factor in the official visitors, unofficial visitors, individual workouts. We looked at the numbers at the end and it was like, holy cow.”

Recapping commitments

June didn’t see as many commitments as coaches had expected, but July did see some movement in the first few weeks.

Ohio State reached back into the 2021 class to get five-star defensive tackle J.T. Tuimoloau, who didn’t sign in December or February and waited until July 4 to make a decision. The No. 4-ranked recruit overall chose the Buckeyes over Washington, Oregon and USC.

His commitment gave Ohio State three five-stars in the 2021 class with the No. 1 overall prospect, defensive end Jack Sawyer, and the No. 1-ranked running back in TreVeyon Henderson.

In the 2022 class, the staff was also able to get ESPN 300 cornerback Terrance Brooks on June 30, and the Buckeyes landed ESPN 300 wide receiver Kojo Antwi on July 5 and offensive tackle George Fitzpatrick, a four-star from Colorado, on July 9.

Ohio State has the No. 1-ranked recruiting class overall, with 11 ESPN 300 commitments.

Alabama added a five-star of its own in the 2022 class: edge defender Jeremiah Alexander. He’s the No. 11-ranked recruit overall and told ESPN he was recruited at the hybrid Jack position at Alabama.

Nick Saban and his staff have steadily risen in the rankings over the last few months as more of the elite-level prospects are starting to make commitments. With so many top-ranked recruits still on the board, it would be safe to expect Alabama and Ohio State to challenge each other for the top spot.

SMU picked up a five-star commitment in July when wide receiver Jordan Hudson chose the Mustangs over Alabama and Texas. It’s not every day you read a sentence like that, especially considering Hudson, the No. 12 prospect in the 2022 class who had once been committed to Oklahoma, is SMU’s highest-ranked commitment since ESPN started its rankings in 2006.

Despite losing Hudson, Oklahoma had a big July, landing ESPN 300 defensive end Derrick Moore, as well as cornerbacks Xavion Brice and Robert Spears-Jennings, along with offensive tackles Jacob Sexton and Jake Taylor.

Penn State added two ESPN 300 recruits to its class with defensive end Zane Durant and running back Nicholas Singleton. The Nittany Lions currently have the No. 6 class overall and the No. 2 class in the Big Ten.

That’s a big bounce-back for coach James Franklin and his staff after finishing outside the top 25 in the 2021 cycle.

A few other programs got in on the fun as well: Michigan added ESPN 300 defensive end Mario Eugenio; LSU got a commitment from linebacker DeMario Tolan; and Oregon snagged ESPN 300 offensive lineman Kelvin Banks, the No. 29 prospect, over LSU, Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State.

Meanwhile, other programs took a few steps backward with some decommitments. USC lost a commitment from ESPN 300 tight end Keyan Burnett, and Oklahoma saw ESPN 300 receiver Talyn Shettron decommit, only to flip to Oklahoma State.

Top-five prospect releases top five schools

Walter Nolen is one of the more sought-after prospects in this class, ranked No. 2 overall. He is a 6-foot-4, 325-pound tackle from Saint Benedict School in Cordova, Tennessee, who just recently released his top five.

Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Michigan and Tennessee made the cut for the five-star recruit, who cut Oregon, Ohio State, USC and LSU from his original top eight, while adding Tennessee into the mix.

Strategy for visits going forward

Because so many recruits ended up using official visits in the month of June, that means coaches are going to have to figure out a way to lure them back on campus before they make a decision.

“The pace of commitments, or lack thereof, really surprised a lot of programs,” one personnel director said. “I had to walk back a lot of the frustrations of our head coach, where I can’t remember a lot of times when a kid actually committed on the official visit. I think there will be a flurry of commitments soon, but there will be a challenge trying to get guys back here and then playing defense with the guys you already got and visited in June.”

Many coaches thought recruits would take visits in June and then commit by the end of the month; however, that didn’t totally happen, especially among top-ranked recruits. A few prospects committed on July 4, but the lack of commitments was something a lot of coaches weren’t expecting.

“They were saying it before June got here, like, ‘Yeah, we’re going to decide in July,'” one personnel director said. “But then it was so much for everybody that it was like, let’s take a step back and breathe. But that’s what got most schools to allow officials [official visits], these kids were telling our coaches they were going to make a decision once they took their visits in June, but we just haven’t seen that, so it has been a little bit of a surprise.”

That thought process left a lot of coaches feeling as though they needed to allow recruits to visit in June, rather than trying to get them to wait until the season.

“There were a couple kids where we said, let’s try to bring them in for an in-season official,” one Power 5 coordinator said. “But we didn’t think we could do that, because teams were going to try to use that against us. That if we’re not pressing that recruit to try to visit or make a decision during the summer, then it meant that recruit was on the back burner and not a priority for us, even if that wasn’t really the case.”

Some programs planned around the month and brought recruits on campus, but also tried to convince some of their bigger targets to wait until the season to take that visit. If a prospect takes an official visit to a school and doesn’t commit, he can’t take another official visit to the same school. If he wanted to visit again, it would have to be unofficially, meaning the prospect and his family would have to pay for their own travel and accommodations.

“We told them if they’re taking four visits, save that last one for us in September or October and we just feel like that’s a better plan,” one personnel director said. “… When you come for a game and you’re wined and dined all weekend, that makes an impression.”

One difficulty coaches are considering: If they don’t get a prospect to commit on an official visit and he’s outside a 500-mile radius, it might be difficult to bring him back to campus to commit.

“Everyone will be trying to get kids back,” one of the personnel directors said. “You’re going to have to hope these people come out of pocket to come visit again just to make sure you’re front and center and they get a different experience this time around. I think what you’ll see is programs with a tighter radius, in terms of where they draw talent from, will have an advantage in getting those players back more easily.”

Miami speeding up the arms race in NIL

In light of the NCAA allowing college athletes to profit off their own name, image and likeness, a booster recently said he plans to give a $500-a-month endorsement deal to every player on the Miami football team.

It’s legal because of state laws and the fact that the NCAA didn’t put together a universal set of rules for each program to abide by.

NIL coming to the forefront in the college landscape means coaches and programs are going to emphasize it to convince recruits they can provide the best opportunities off the field as well.

One personnel director said the Miami booster’s deal will influence boosters at other schools to do much of the same.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that there’s one of our boosters somewhere that’s saying, ‘I’m not going to let them get a leg up on us and get these kids,'” the personnel director said. “There’s going to be some guys that maybe haven’t gotten the pull or recognition for donating money who is going to try to get their name out there and say, ‘Hey, I’m the one paying these guys.’ We’re kind of at the mercy of it all and our coach is dreading that aspect of it because there’s no way to manage it.”

The sentiment among the coaches and personnel directors is that the opportunity for players to make money should be there, but it shouldn’t be used as a recruiting tool. The personnel directors and the coach we spoke to for this story believed the NCAA will eventually have to create rules everyone can follow as opposed to not regulating anything and leaving it up to the states and schools.

“That was something a lot of coaches have talked about, that this is basically legal money laundering at this point,” one personnel director said. “And, for whatever reason, the governing body of the sport doesn’t seem to care until it becomes very real and everyone’s asking them, how could you let this happen? It’s here for now, but I’d be shocked if they didn’t go back to the drawing board and say they have to make some tweaks to this.”

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