The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over in the United States, but things are starting to trend in a positive direction. A vaccine was recently introduced in America and some citizens have been able to receive the injection. This has given the country an optimistic outlook for the future.
In the heat of the pandemic, the sports world was derailed. Professional and collegiate sports leagues were stalled, and this captured the attention of sports fans all over the nation. Sports were also hurt behind the scenes. This is especially true in regards to the college football recruiting process.
High school football players looking to play in college, as well as collegiate coaches, were deeply affected by the COVID pandemic. The case of recruiting the class of 2021 was a challenge that had never been dealt with in the world of college football.
The pandemic did hurt the recruiting process, but it also had a silver lining that will hopefully continue when the country moves on from COVID.
The Typical College Football Recruiting Path
The recruiting process starts earlier than ever before two decades into the 21st century. Kids are receiving offers during their freshman year or even earlier which is crazy. College football is a business, so coaches are trying to do their best to lock up recruits as early as possible.
For an athlete in the class of 2021, the spring of their junior year (2020) would be the prime recruiting season. After sending out junior season film, recruits would unofficially visit schools through a variety of events. These could be events that the college puts on like “Junior Days” or individual visits, but recruits must pay their own way to get on campus.
College coaches also have a designated time frame where they can go visit recruits at the athletes’ high schools. The face-to-face communication in the spring helps build trust which is key for inking a top-tier athlete.
The next step for high school athletes is to go show their skills in person at summer camps. Offers are typically extended, but under-recruited prospects still have their senior year film to show their athleticism to college coaches. Official visits could begin on August 1st of the recruits’ senior year. These were eliminated for the class of 2021.
In a usual year, there are quiet periods where very limited contact is allowed. Although, the NCAA still gives athletes and coaches the ability to develop a face-to-face relationship which wasn’t the case for the class of 2021.
The 2021 College Football Recruiting Path
The 2021 recruiting path diverged from a traditional route. The NCAA implemented a dead period in the spring and have extended it for all sports until April 15th of 2021. In college football, there were very few junior days. There were no summer camps. In a lot of cases, there was no senior season for countless recruits in the class of 2021.
The early signing day for Division I football took place about a week ago on December 16th. The majority of signees never had more than zoom interactions with the college coaches of the programs where they signed their letter of intent.
College coaches had to figure out a way to build relationships with recruits without getting them on campus. This was hard, but schools made the most of the difficult NCAA regulations that were applied.
High school athletes needed to adjust as well. Virtual evaluations became the new normal in 2020. All uncommitted recruits were filming their combine drills to send to coaches in the spring. High school football players needed to find a way to stand out without an in-person evaluation.
They then had to determine what coaches they liked without ever stepping foot on campus for an unofficial or official visit. I couldn’t imagine how difficult this would be for an 18-year-old kid. I went through the Division I recruiting process during a normal year and it was a very stressful period of my life because of the business nature embedded within college football.
The COVID pandemic made recruits and college coaches adapt. It was bad in the sense that there was little to no face-to-face connection made between recruits and recruiters. However, the COVID pandemic did some things that hopefully changed the recruiting process for the better moving forward.
The Silver Lining of the College Football Recruiting Process for the Class of 2021
The landscape of the college football recruiting process has hopefully changed forever. One benefit that COVID had on the recruiting process was that it evened the playing field throughout Division I football. Recruits couldn’t just pick a school for the facilities because they were unable to take any in-person visits.
Small schools were able to gain an edge under COVID. Recruits were forced to judge coaches for their true character which I believe is a benefit. I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be face to face contact during the recruiting process. An in-person connection needs to occur for the sake of the recruits and coaches, but the framework of the recruiting process needs to be altered.
College football is not about the kids and this is a sad fact in today’s world. It has turned into a massive business that we all love, but the emphasis needs be on the kids’ personal development and education.
A college coach should have the best interest of the recruit in mind and this is often not the case. With a virtual recruiting process, coaches couldn’t flaunt their programs. They needed to find a way to build a personal connection under the never-before-seen circumstances with the COVID pandemic.
The NCAA needs to take this into consideration for the future in order to even the playing field in college football. Big schools shouldn’t be able to ‘buy’ recruits and Zoom didn’t allow this to easily occur for the class of 2021. There needs to be more limited on-campus contact during the college football recruiting process to truly have the best interest of the recruits in mind during a very strenuous period of their lives.
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