ESPN’s Josh Moyer has an excellent article about Penn State’s walk-on program, or “run-on” program as head coach Bill O’Brien has dubbed it. The walk-ons have taken on an increased importance with the sanctions levied against Penn State and the severe scholarship crunch the team will be operating under over the next few years.
That has lead to a special walk-on recruiting event, coaches making sure to return every email, watch every video, make every call, and to also visit as many high schools in the state as possible to build strong recruiting connections. But there are two things you do not see in Penn State’s walk-on recruiting program: official visits and off-campus contact between coaches and recruits (e.g. home visits).
This is important because under the NCAA’s scholarship rules for football, recruited walk-ons cannot accept even non-athletic financial aid from the institution and still be considered walk-ons, unless they redshirt. This is to prevent schools from pressuring their financial aid office to help provide a few extra scholarships for recruited athletes in their revenue sports (basketball has the same rule). A prospect is considered recruited if the coaching staff:
- Has in-person, off-campus contact with the prospect;
- Brings the prospect to campus on an official visit; or
- Makes a written scholarship offer to the prospect, even if he or she does not sign it.
It used to be even more stringent. Until a couple years ago, a coach could only make one phone call to a prospect before he or she became recruited and in football or basketball could not receive institutional financial aid and play without counting as a scholarship athlete.
But now coaches can make as many phone calls as they want, email (and soon text) prospects, evaluate them in person, and invite them on unofficial visits. Especially for recruits within driving distance, that can be a lot of recruiting for a prospect who is technically nonrecruited.
Stick to this plan means O’Brien and the Penn State staff may not have to rely on just those walk-ons willing to pay their entire way. They can offer players a preferred walk-on spot and send them through Penn State’s financial aid process to see if they can get some help paying for school as well.