It takes a lot to get under Lincoln Riley's skin.
Whether in victory or adversity, the Oklahoma head coach is notoriously even-keel.
But over his three years at the helm of the Sooner football program, Riley has emerged as one of the most innovative and devoted recruiters in the country. He's revitalized Oklahoma's recruiting efforts with video, hashtags and social media campaigns. So quite understandably, he's a little miffed that the NCAA threw a wrench in his plans by extending the recruiting dead period to Dec. 31.
"I really don’t understand it at all," Riley stated in his Tuesday press conference. "Everything we were told and led to believe was it was going to continue to be a month-to-month decision, and obviously monitor COVID and travel and all that goes with that. So for us to just jump ahead and do that, I have no explanation. We as coaches have received no explanation about it."
Riley's frustration with the resolution is certainly justified, as programs and conferences across the country have spent the last week frantically attempting to modify pandemic-related decisions that proved too sweeping in scope. The Big Ten announced in early August that it would not play football; lo and behold, the conference reneged on that ruling. The Pac-12 has taken similar steps to undo its previous verdict on the 2020 football season. Even UMass, an FBS independent, is pursuing opponents after earlier stating that it would not compete this fall.
The dead period means that prospective student-athletes are unable to take campus visits, which represent a cog in the recruiting machine that Riley particularly values.
"I was shocked because it’s important that these guys are able to go see these places, and not saying it’s going to be able to happen, but it might be able to happen," said Riley. "And for us to close the door on it so quickly, I, like most of my peers I’ve had a chance to speak with, [was] caught off guard with really zero explanation for it, and I don’t really understand it at all."
The athletes aren't thrilled with the circumstances either.
"It’s a little upsetting," said SI99 offensive tackle Tristan Leigh. "Because you’re not getting that same, like, things that you’ve worked for, like the official visit. It’s a lot easier to get a feel for where you want to go in person than a virtual meeting."
SI1000 linebacker and Oklahoma commit Danny Stutsman hasn't even had the opportunity to interact with his future coaches.
"They haven’t actually seen me in person yet," said Stutsman. "Which is kind of crazy to think about."
Nevertheless, Riley and the Sooner staff press on amidst the altered circumstances. Their 2021 recruiting class currently includes a slew of top prospects on both offense and defense, headlined by SI All-American's No. 1 overall player in Caleb Williams. Oklahoma is far from finished on the trail, and they could have another commitment by week's end. Riley and company are hoping to land a pledge from elite Maryland wideout and SI1000 candidate Jalil Farooq on Sept. 27.
Nonetheless, the 36-year-old head coach quite clearly isn't a fan of the way the NCAA has handled the recruiting game.
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