Big Ten ponders football recruiting reform – Journal and Courier
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ROSEMONT, Ill. — Big Ten Conference commissioner Jim Delany remembers legendary North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith standing in his living room a half century ago.
That visit came in the spring of Delany’s senior year of high school. He recalled that anecdote last Wednesday during the Big Ten Joint Group Meetings to emphasize the drastic change of the recruiting process over time.
If transfers dominate men’s basketball coaches concerns these days, the football equivalent is recruiting reforms. The conference is central to a handful of issues that resonate throughout the NCAA.
The recruiting calendar and the tenuous nature of verbal commitments were among the topics of discussion at the annual meetings at Big Ten headquarters. Delany said the NCAA is taking “a more comprehensive view of recruiting practices.” Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke called for bringing “sanity to the situation.”
Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst, who serves on the Division I Football Oversight Committee, said while some recruiting issues flare up regionally, the answers must be national.
“The oversight committee has some authority and autonomy to try to bring fundamental fairness,” Eichorst said. “The level playing field thing is not a reality, but I think there is fundamental fairness. I don’t think geography, the mission of the institution or resources should bound you by rule based on what you’re doing across the country.
“It’s a healthy debate. Hopefully now we can hunker down now that we’ve got the camp thing settled down a little bit so we can talk about it holistically and comprehensively.”
Some football coaches from northern conferences, for instance, seek to change the current rule prohibiting official visits prior to the fall of a recruit’s senior year. They want the option of bringing players to campus the previous spring,. Better weather is a consideration, but the main factor is athletes are already verbally committing by that point anyway.
Burke says the idea has merit. He believes programs’ inability to get recruits on campus before they verbally commit has contributed to an increase in the frequency of players backing out of those verbals.
“People are making reservations in the system, but then they’re pulling out late, and coaches have nowhere to go,” Burke said. “If part of that is being caused by a process that doesn’t allow the kids to come in and get an official visit until much later in the cycle, you’d better look at that.”
However, the opposite has, at times, been true.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh drew criticism in February when a former Wolverine recruit went public about having a scholarship pulled away right before signing day. Verbal commitments are non-binding for either the program or the recruit.
Asked specifically about the Michigan situation, Delany admitted either party pulling out is not an “unusual situation.”
“I’m not sure it’s a ‘black eye’ for anybody, but it’s an environment worth looking at,” Delany said.
In addition to allowing spring visits, Burke would like to adjust the process by which players can commit to programs.
In his concept, any player who has taken an official visit could, after Sept. 1 of his senior year, request a national letter of intent. One one hand, the athlete would have greater control over the process and protection from disappearing contract offers. On the other, they would be bound to their early commitment as much as the teams.
“I don’t need an early signing date because it creates an artificial date,” Burke said. “Let’ s have a rolling signing date where a kid really feels it’s in my best interest (to sign), but let’s bind each other at that point in time. But if you back out of it, absent a coaching change, there’s got to be an accountability.
“You can’t buy an automobile, drive it for six months and then say, ‘Well I really don’t like it, so will you take it back?’ We’re teaching accountability. “