We’ve talked a lot in the past about college commitments and how players should stick with their commitment once they’ve made their choice.
It’s supposed to be a promise. Nothing, of course, is written in stone, but there was once a time when a person’s word was as good as gold.
Times have changed.
It’s difficult to hold a person true to an original choice when circumstances are ever-changing.
After seeing more than 100 high school football players from the state of Florida decommit during the 2013 recruiting cycle, members of the 2014 class figured to be more selective. Given that so many players changed their minds last year — driven, in part, by the 31 NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision head coaches losing jobs or changing schools — it was thought that players would take more time this year.
Quite the opposite. It’s only August and more than 200 state players, up by about 50 from this time last year, have already pledged to schools. That’s about half of the expected total of Florida 2014 FBS signees.
For some reason this summer, schools have accelerated their recruitment agendas and players have, in turn, accelerated their decision process. It's a process that is providing a scary look into the future of college football recruiting and the NCAA needs to take a long, hard look.
For now, college coaches are just trying to keep pace with each other and technology has been the driving force.
As UCF offensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Brent Key puts it, the accelerated process is not necessarily a concerted effort on the part of either the coaches or the prospects. Coach Key points to the access players and coaches, alike, have to more information about each other.
“I don’t think you can really say [committing early] is good or bad, it’s a change in culture,” Key said. “The evolution of social media and that sort of thing, the Internet is what’s pushed the commitment process so much earlier … in the world of recruiting everyone knows everybody, everyone knows everyone else’s information. And the information on recruits and high school prospects is so much more readily available to college coaches.
“And when you put in the competition between schools about who is going to get these guys, if you offer someone earlier it’s going to be good for you and your school and that, in turn, gets earlier commitments.”
Hudl.com has been all the rage for the past few years. The website allows high school coaches and players to upload game and player highlights in a far less cumbersome manner than what was previously available. And, in turn, the same easy access is available to college scouts. It’s a win-win for all involved.
First-year Stetson head coach Roger Hughes says football has been a driving force in the evolution of the recruiting culture, and mechanisms such as Hudl.com have been particularly advantageous to smaller schools with lesser recruiting budgets.
"Nowadays you can do a lot of things without even leaving your desk," said Hughes, who spent 10 seasons as head coach at Princeton prior to taking on the task of resurrecting the Stetson program. "It's especially beneficial to a guy like myself at a start-up program.
"When I first got hired here, I reached out to a friend of mine who runs a recruiting service called Go Big Recruiting. I said, 'I need to get it out there that we're starting a program at the I-AA level.' Within 10 minutes I had my first video and within 24 hours I had 55 videos from 23 different states."
Add that type of access to the constant coverage by national recruiting websites like 247Sports, Rivals and Scout, as well as coverage by newspaper websites in smaller, localized formats similar to what we do at the Sentinel, and more information is available to college coaches than ever before.
Players are also more readily available with Twitter and Facebook and their recruiting process, many times, plays out in social media.
UCF has more or less completed it’s 2014 recruiting class with 12 commitments. The Knights may take a couple more players, but with scholarship numbers down this period, they are already looking to 2015. UCF doesn’t usually fill it’s class until right up to National Signing Day.
“Everybody in the summer now is going around and looking at schools that they’re interested in, basically trying to narrow some schools down,” said UCF receivers coach Sean Beckton, who recruits parts of Florida and Georgia. “A lot of them are making decisions based on unofficial visits. I think it’s a good situation for [schools] like UCF. What happens is Florida, Florida State, they’ll go after those five-star guys and they’ll end up locking those guys down … obviously we do look at some five-stars, but we make a decision on those kids early. If they don’t respond to us, we’ve got to move on.”
With NCAA guidelines also changing for incoming freshmen in the near future, colleges have to know which players are on track to qualify. It’s becoming even more important to start the process earlier.
“In years past, we’ve always concentrated on guys that were seniors, maybe possibly a junior or two here or there, but now it’s accelerating to where you’re looking at sophomores,” Beckton said. “[We’re] pulling transcripts on those guys, [seeing] if they’re academically set to go with the new NCAA standards coming down the pipes. We ask the coaches when we go in there, ‘Coach, who are the young guys in your program?’ That question never came up three years ago. That’s the nature of the adjustment we have to make as college football coaches.”
And it all adds up to why Orlando Timber Creek junior running back Jacques Patrick had more than 30 verbal FBS scholarship offers before he even completed his sophomore year of high school. As schools try to position themselves earlier in the process, recruiting is headed toward the middle-school level.
These are the kinds of things that have sent the football recruiting process spiraling toward an out-of-control frenzy. The NCAA needs to step up and take reform measures or it's going to be too late.
The problem right now, however, is that the NCAA does not know where to begin. Setting standards for things like Twitter and Facebook contact tomorrow could be out of date by next week. We saw it happen with texting. The NCAA put up a road-block on that avenue, only to watch Facebook communication take off. Now it's Twitter.
Who knows what it will be tomorrow, but rest assured, it will be something and the NCAA will have its usual knee-jerk reaction to policing if it does not get a grasp on the future.
College basketball and the AAU free-for-all gave the NCAA a blueprint for what disaster looks like. It's time to learn from that and step to the drawing board for new reform that will make sense for today and tomorrow.
For now, however, coming to a Pop Warner practice near you might well be Nick Saban or Urban Meyer.
Alabama has reportedly already made a verbal offer to Louisiana eighth-grader Dylan Moses, and there are others.
Eighth-grade phenom Tyreke Johnson of Jacksonville's Trinity Christian School claims offers from Vanderbilt and FAU. He talked recently about his lack of an offer from Florida State, where his brother, Jacksonville First Coast QB De'Andre Johnson, has committed to the 2015 recruiting class.
"I have been kind of wondering what's taken so long," said Johnson.
The earlier and deeper the coaches are allowed to delve into the lives of youngsters, the more room it creates for corruption by ne'er-do-wells, street agents and hangers-on.
It's too late to wake up and smell the coffee. It's time to clean up what's already boiled over.
Chris Hays is the Sentinel's recruiting coverage coordinator and can be reached at email@example.com. Follow us on Twitter at @Os_Recruiting and Facebook at Orlando Sentinel Recruiting and now on Pinterest at Orlando Recruiting.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun