What Does A Conference-Only Season Mean For Michigan Recruiting?

Eric Rutter

On the surface, shortening Michigan's football season from 12 to nine games does not seem like a massive change that would have a wide-reaching impact on the U-M's recruiting ventures. However, doing so does open up the staff to a few potential advantages while causing restrictions in other areas.

Here is a potential look at how the Wolverines' recruiting efforts may deviate under a Big Ten-only football schedule:

The Advantages

By shortening the regular season by three games, the Michigan coaching staff will have three extra weekends that it can use to focus on attracting prospects to the program. Now, Michigan already has 19 commits in the 2021 class and many of the school's top targets in the cycle have long been identified, so this could provide an opportunity for the Wolverines to build inroads with younger players in the 2022 or 2023 cycles.

At the moment, a dead period currently exists that forbids players from meeting with coaches on campus and coaches from hitting the road and traveling to players' home towns. But assuming that a football season takes place, one would have to imagine that the dead period would be lifted. If that were to be the case, Michigan could travel during those three extra weekend. Prospects that receive visits from the staff would likely feel that they are a priority given the logistics of the situation.

In-person visits notably take more time and effort to conduct, so those investments would show that each visited prospect is an important player to the Wolverines. But in the past, such as during Jim Harbaugh's media availability from Wednesday, U-M has recognized that conducting Zoom calls can have its own benefits as well since coaches can meet with four prospects for one hour much more easily than a coach could physically visit four prospects over the course of a day. The Michigan staff has mentioned that these digital calls would likely be a carry-over once the dead period is lifted. But for a recruit to receive an in-person visit would have to mean quite a bit more, so there is an exclusivity factor to weigh as well.

Additionally, in-person visits usually double as evaluation periods for the coaches. While Michigan has been able to conduct digital visits and Zoom calls with recruits, it is not quite possible to give prospects the eye test when they are working out across the country. That is one clear area where an in-person visit would provide more information to the coaching staff.

When it comes to game days, Michigan could also put more time into preparation for each individual recruit that comes to campus. Typically, the coaching staff is exceedingly busy on game days with the task of coaching the team, media duties, and other various meetings, so having more time to prepare for these visits could bode well since 25% of U-M's season is now canceled.

These days, recruits are so technology savvy that most committed prospects take part in a group chat with their fellow commits well before reaching campus. While this helps to build a familiarity among the group, meeting each other on campus and spending time in person is impossible to replace, and doing so for a game, for example, would likely further cement the bond that is already established. And for some prospects, such as Casey Phinney or Jaydon Hood, who have not visited Ann Arbor before committing, it would help give more information to those players as well.

The Disadvantages

But as there are numerous potential areas that could work in Michigan's favor for a shortened season, not all aspects of a conference-only schedule are positive. With three less games on the schedule, that is three less opportunities for kids across the country to watch Michigan, to observe the Wolverines picking up a victory on the national level and three fewer games where commits could zero in on how players at their position are used.

Since the Big Ten is moving to stick to a conference-only schedule, one thought process is that it will keep schools close to the same geographic region and would be easier to control and regulate from a healthy and safety standpoint. Without traveling to Washington in early September, that is one more headache that U-M will not have to deal with.

But as such, the NCAA might restrict which parts of the country coaches can visit if the dead period is lifted. Not all states have handled the coronavirus exceedingly well and many are in different stages of reopening. This could potentially limit what players are even on the table for coaches to visit during the season.

Along that same line, high school football in some areas of the country is in jeopardy. States like Florida and Texas have come out as more committed to holding a season in the fall than other locations, and various players have transferred with that as a paramount concern. For example, U-M quarterback commit J.J. McCarthy transferred from Nazareth Academy in Illinois to IMG Academy in Florida and cited that exact reason as part of his move.

As unfortunate as it may be, some high school players will be left without a football season this fall, and that swath of athletes is likely to include a Michigan target at some level. It is unclear if waivers will be in place that would allow for a high schooler to maintain an additional year of eligibility or if that is even a quality idea from a healthy and safety standpoint, so many questions still exist surrounding the schedule change.

But for the moment, Michigan is set to play a nine-game season. When playing in Ann Arbor, many are optimistic that the Wolverines will be able to host recruits on campus in a safe way that will allow for these young prospects to receive a taste of what football in the Big House is like. But without fans in attendance, that may be difficult to accomplish. And for Michigan's four in-conference road games, players from those locations may watch U-M pick up a road victory in enemy territory.

Though, it is difficult to tell if sticking to a conference-only schedule is a victory for all involved.

What are your thoughts on the Big Ten's move to eliminate any non-conference games? What do you think happens to Michigan from a recruiting standpoint during this time? Let us know! 

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