In a world where social distancing is the new norm and gatherings are not permitted as we knew them previously, college football recruiting has taken a turn.
Before COVID-19 affected recruiting, prospects regularly visited college campuses across the nation to get a true feel for where they would spend the next three-to-four years of their lives, in both a football and educational sense. Now, with in-person recruiting off the table through at least May 31, teams have moved toward a virtual experience.
Florida head coach Dan Mullen spoke at length on the subject in a teleconference call with media on Monday morning. While his routine has included a morning workout and adapting into a tutoring role for his children, Mullen is spending "a whole lot of time recruiting."
"I mean recruiting from home, the recruiting aspect, I don't have to be at my desk to do it," Mullen said of his adjustment. "Wherever you have a phone and you can text kids, or you can FaceTime with kids, you know, you're calling kids, doing all of that part on the recruiting side of things, it's not that big a deal."
The NCAA allows college coaches to initiate video calls with prospects, one by one, to provide virtual tours and provide information to recruits in lieu of traditional visits. While prospects can't directly get a feel for the university, tour areas of the school, meet professors in person, and so on, this availability is the next best thing.
Mullen does not view these adaptations as much of a struggle, as he and the coaching staff regularly make the same types of phone calls with recruits while in pursuit of their talents. Lacking the ability to give prospects a true feel for the campus, however, is a different story.
"I think the hard part is, you know for us, it's recruiting, you're looking at guys that are making decisions on where they're going to school, and where they are going to live, right?" Mullen pondered.
In comparison to the NFL draft, where general managers have expressed interest in continuing a virtual draft and doing scouting work from home, Mullen noted that it's difficult to not give prospects a better idea of everyday life on campus.
"The difference is, between the college and the pros, in college the players pick you. In the pros, you get picked. They don't get to make any decision, whatsoever about where they're going, they get drafted," said Mullen. "So it really doesn't matter, what, 'Hey, what's the living situation? What's my tutor situation? What does the weight room look like? How's the stadium? What color uniforms are we wearing?'. You know, all the stuff. So you know, those aspects of things, 'What's campus life like?'.
"So for us, it's trying to get virtual meetings, virtual recruiting visits set up, and what we can do, as much information as we can get to these recruits and help them make their decisions... The limits, the ability to get them here and in-person, and on campus, and so that's always the one thing that makes it tough."
Mullen's message with recruits remains consistent with his typical pitch, however. While he can't give prospects the in-person experience that comes with a visit, the information he can provide includes several great selling points.
He'll now point to the 2020 NFL draft, for one example. Florida saw seven former players selected in the draft, including a top-ten pick in cornerback C.J. Henderson to Jacksonville, three receivers getting selecting, leading schools in a historically deep class at the position, and even four undrafted players quickly receiving contracts following the selection ceremony.
"I think players are looking here, in just two years we have the program built to this level where we finished in top-10 in football the last two years," said Mullen. "We’re the only top-10 football team that’s a top-10 academic school, as well, and we’re producing an extremely high number of NFL talent, so I mean to me it makes a lot of sense to come to Florida. If you’re a recruit you get the best of all worlds coming here.
"Plus, we have sunshine and palm trees, which is pretty nice too.”