Would you buy a house without at least a quick tour? How about purchase a car without a test drive? Maybe marry someone without a date? Big decisions usually require all the information you can gather.
Yet, over the next few weeks, there are a bunch of kids about to make life-changing choices without the opportunity to solidify the fact they’re headed down the right path when they sign to play football at schools they weren’t allowed to officially visit. And there are a lot of coaches that are going to be bringing kids to campuses without a great idea of exactly who they’re really getting. It’s a recipe for disaster on both fronts, all because the NCAA has continually been stretching out the recruiting dead period for months now due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s uncommon ground for everybody in recruiting,” Mississippi State assistant coach Tony Hughes said. “You basically have to be a good evaluator on tape. What you do, as you evaluate on tape, you just hope the evaluation you made is the right evaluation.”
Hughes is a man long respected for his recruiting chops. Yet he and many others are relegated in large part to hope. He and a bunch of other football minds around the nation are praying they not only are able to correctly judge a player’s ability on game film, but also correctly assess character based on text messages, phone calls or video chats.
“Recruiting is funny,” Hughes said. “Sometimes you may not like what you see (on film), but when you meet a kid or get him on campus or get around him, he kind of grows on you and you think, ‘I really like this kid. I connect with this kid. He looks you in the eye. He’s an upright kid. I think this kid is gonna be a good player.’ His tape wasn’t that good, but you liked the kid and liked his personality and liked his home life. You take him and he becomes a good player for you and you sit there and say, ‘I was right on that one.’ You lose that edge in a lot of cases (given the circumstances now).”
So what does all this mean at base level? It means some kids are going to slip through the cracks. There’s a football player out there somewhere right now with an unrefined skill set, but a heart of a champion, that might could’ve gotten a big break somewhere if he could’ve just taken an official visit. It could work the other way too. A bad egg might not be discovered until it’s too late and he’s already signed and sealed with the school that thought they were getting a different person or player than what they ended up receiving. Zoom calls can certainly be deceiving after all. I had one just the other day with a nice shirt on. I looked so professional onscreen. Good thing they couldn’t see I was also wearing gym shorts and house shoes. You don’t always get the full picture in a virtual meeting. You can easily pull the wool over someone’s eyes.
All this is going to make a lot of folks miserable in the end. There are going to be players unhappy they’ve inked with schools where they weren’t actually a fit. There are going to be coaches perturbed they signed guys who they might not have if only official visits had been allowed and some of the warts had been discovered sooner.
The guess here is it leads to a jam-packed transfer portal full of guys in the years to come, looking to get out of a bad decision they made, in part, because the NCAA didn’t allow them to officially visit before signing. It’s absolutely ludicrous.
I get safety is paramount in a COVID-19 world. Even as I write this I have multiple family members and friends dealing with the disease, some seriously ill. I’m not at all trying to discount that. But football programs around the country are allowing thousands of fans to come into stadiums and watch the action. Why can’t a high school athlete and his family put on a mask, maintain social distancing guidelines and officially come visit the coaching staff he’s considering one day playing for? It’s all absurd.
I dated my now-wife for six years prior to our marriage. Now about 12 years into that marriage, I’m still discovering things I never knew, despite all the info I had going in. I can’t imagine some of the surprises some of these kids and coaches are going to get over the next few years as sides start to discover what they got isn’t what they they thought.
The NCAA always claims to be looking out for the student-athlete. Yet they’re darn sure not looking out for the student-athletes of the immediate future.
So best of luck to all the players who’ll be signing in December or February with schools you never even visited. And best of luck to the coaches that inked them too. May your new brides all be as beautiful with the makeup off as they were with it on.
Joel Coleman is the publisher/editor of Sports Illustrated’s Cowbell Corner and this column is Coleman’s opinion alone. It is not necessarily the opinion of any other person affiliated with Sports Illustrated/Maven. To follow along on Cowbell Corner and comment on articles and participate in the community, simply sign up, get a username and chime in with your thoughts and questions. Also, be sure to follow Cowbell Corner on Twitter (@SIBulldogs) by clicking here, and like it on Facebook by clicking here. Thank you for coming to Cowbell Corner for coverage of Mississippi State sports.