Breaking down the NCAA's new recruiting rules

2:35 | College Football
Andy Staples explains new college football rules
Friday April 14th, 2017

An early signing date, a 10th assistant coach and earlier official visits are coming to college football after the NCAA’s Division I Council approved a sweeping set of rules changes Friday. The new rules will be presented to the NCAA Board of Directors next month for approval and, barring any major resistance in the next few weeks, they should get rubber-stamped. Here is a deeper look at the those rules.

A December signing period

The recruiting calendar now allows for an early signing date in December that likely would fall during the same 72-hour period during which junior college players currently sign. Players who want to end the recruiting process can sign early, while players who want more time can wait until the February date. In basketball, which has signing dates in November and in April, most players sign in November. “That early signing period is preferred in most sports if not all,” said Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips, who serves as the council’s chair. “There is a segment that wants to get it over with.”

The Collegiate Commissioners Association, which runs the National Letter of Intent program, must approve the new signing period in a June vote. But since the commissioners run the leagues that just approved this package, there shouldn’t be any objections.

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Coaches and administrators debated earlier about a potential June signing date, but that met with a lot of resistance from college and high school coaches because it would accelerate the recruiting process even more. It also met with resistance from athletic directors who didn’t relish the idea of firing a coach who might have two-thirds of a class signed in November. The mid-December date doesn’t accelerate the recruiting process much, but it would take place after most firings. It might accelerate the coach hire/fire cycle by a few days or weeks so programs can have a new coach in place before the December signing date.

And while there probably won’t be many coaches fired after the December signing date, there might be some successful coaches who leave for better jobs near the date or shortly after. This will require athletic directors at the schools seeking new coaches to decide whether they want to release signees from their NLIs. In practice, most players seeking a release probably will get one. The incoming coach might actually want to release them to free up scholarships for players who better fit his system.

A 10th assistant coach 

Beginning Jan. 9, schools can add a 10th assistant football coach. This person would be allowed to coach on the field and go on the road recruiting. How programs will use this role depends on how they’re currently staffed. Some may hire a dedicated special teams coordinator. Some may want two assistants coaching the offensive line or two coaching the secondary.

Originally, this rule was supposed to be effective immediately. So there are already coaches in analyst roles that seem natural fits for when schools are allowed to bring the 10th assistant on board. For example, Alabama just hired former Rams quarterbacks coach—and former Florida State great—Chris Weinke as an analyst. Weinke would seem a perfect fit as the Crimson Tide’s quarterbacks coach. LSU has used former NFL assistant Bobby April as a special teams “consultant.” April is allowed to participate in game preparation but not allowed to coach at practice or in games. April would seem a logical 10th assistant. Graduate assistant Carter Blount is slated to coach the Tigers’ special teams units on the field.

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A rule limiting the hiring of people associated with recruits

A new rule will ban the hiring of an “individual associated with a prospect”—this could be a high school coach, a parent or a seven-on-seven coach—to support positions for two years before and after the prospect signs. (This matches a rule already in place in basketball.) In other words, a school that signs five-star cornerback Bobby Lockdown may not hire his high school secondary coach as a director of high school relations and his seven-on-seven coach as a defensive analyst. Schools still may hire such a person as an on-field assistant or head coach, so Lockdown’s buddies can still get jobs where Lockdown signs as long as the head coach trusts them to coach linebackers or tight ends. Spoiler alert: He probably doesn’t.

This rule has been criticized by Alabama’s Nick Saban and by Auburn’s Gus Malzahn. Malzahn, a former high school coach himself, believes it will limit the movement between the high school and college coaching ranks. Malzahn has hired several high school coaches into support roles, and some of those coaches have built prosperous careers. His current offensive coordinator (Chip Lindsey) is one of those. Of course, Malzahn could have still hired Lindsey to a support role because Lindsey’s hiring did not coincide with the signing of a player Lindsey coached.

AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

Saban has complained because the ban will keep college programs from paying high school coaches to work summer camps. “There are lots of shenanigans going on in the camp environment where a high school coach or a seven-on-seven coach shows up with a busload of kids and gets a big honorarium for bringing them to camp and they are all having so-called unofficial visits,” said Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, who who chairs the NCAA’s Division I football oversight committee. “We needed to clean up the camp environment, and this legislation does that.” Actually, it doesn’t do that. Schools now will pay non-coaches cash under the table for performing the same service. The high school coaches paid over the table were at least subject to the scrutiny of their own school districts and beholden to the desire to keep their own jobs. That encouraged them to behave more responsibly. Most of the people who will load the recruits into vans now have no incentive to behave responsibly.

Bowlsby is correct, however, when he says that the ban doesn’t truly limit job movement. If a school wants a coach and his player bad enough, they’ll hire the coach to an assistant role. A prime example in basketball is No. 1 recruit Michael Porter Jr. Washington and Missouri have hired Porter’s father—a former Missouri women’s basketball assistant — as an assistant in the past two years. The younger Porter originally signed with Washington and then asked for his release when his father was fired along with Lorenzo Romar’s staff. He then signed with Missouri.

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Earlier official visits

Schools now will be allowed to bring players on all-expenses-paid visits to campus from April to June of the player’s junior year of high school. Previously, schools were not allowed to bring in players on official visits until September of the recruit’s senior year. This rule will take effect for the class of 2019.

This rule could be a godsend for programs such as Nebraska that are located far from recruiting hotbeds. While schools near such hotbeds could get recruits to make short drives to take unofficial visits, the Nebraskas and Syracuses of the world struggled to convince players to pay their own way to come for an unofficial visit or to a camp. And since much of a cycle’s players are committed by August, this gave those schools little chance to show off their programs.

Now, those schools can bring in a player in April, May or June. If he likes what he sees, that player may then decide to pay his own way back for camp or for a game in the fall. But at least those schools will have a more equal chance to show what they have to offer before most recruits narrow their options.

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Limiting satellite camps

The dumbest debate of last year finally ended with a compromise. Programs now may use 10 days in June and July to hold camps, but those camps must be held on a college campus. That means multiple staffs may still work together to host a camp at a school near a recruiting hotbed, but a staff such as Michigan couldn’t take off on a monthlong world tour.

Meanwhile, Ohio State (for example) could still invite every MAC coaching staff to come work its camp. This practice would have been banned by the council’s ham-handed initial ruling. The ability of coaches from less wealthy programs to work the camps of wealthier programs helps the less-wealthy programs and helps the recruits who might not have otherwise been connected with those programs. For example, a player who goes to South Carolina’s camp may not realize at first that he isn’t good enough to get a scholarship for the Gamecocks. At the camp, he might meet a coach from Presbyterian who might never have encountered him otherwise. The end result might be a school finding a player perfect for that school’s level and a player getting a scholarship he might never have known about otherwise.

The package also included a rule that allows college coaches to have recruiting conversations with prospects at camps. This already happened anyway and was impossible to regulate with an NCAA rule, so congratulations to the council for embracing common sense.

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