John Talty of AL.com rounded up custom photos which Alabama sent its commits who were participating in the invite-only The Opening, put on by Nike in Oregon. Those photos are completely legal, if you jump through a couple interpretive hoops. The current rule says you may attach anything you could send as a printed recruiting material to an electronic transmission. One permissible recruiting material is one piece of general correspondence with no restrictions on design other than it must be no bigger than an 8 1/2“ x 11” sheet of paper. Starting August 1, any personalized image can be attached to electronic correspondence without so much wrangling of the rule book.
The bigger issue is what the photos say about football recruiting in light of the current effort to reform football’s recruiting model. At the same time the rules are being loosened to allow ever more elaborate presentations via email or text, the college football community is actively trying to limit how much contact coaches can have with prospects.
Just this year, two new dead periods were added, limiting when prospects could come on visits. Football was not included in the deregulation of limits on phone calls, after football coaches complained when they were included the first time. The subcommittee looking at possible football recruiting changes may reduce both the number of official visits prospects can take and the number institutions may host. An early signing period might be coming with at least one conference arguing prospects should not be able to sign if they have taken an official visit. Football coaches also appear to be repeating basketball’s mistake of refusing to deal with 7-on–7 football, rather than simply distancing themselves from it as far as possible.
All those changes mean that while other sports, especially basketball, push toward more contact between coaches and prospects to build relationships, football refuses to go down that path and instead wants to move in the opposite direction. In some ways that attitude is bound to backfire. You cannot say you want to decrease the influence of third parties and allow fewer official visits. That increases the value of unofficial visits which in many cases are funded and controlled by third parties.
But it also means that recruiting tricks like the photos Alabama sent to prospects who dutifully posted them on social media are more important. Limited contact means making the most of those opportunities you have and generating buzz with prospects you haven’t gotten in touch with. Alabama’s colorful personalized recruiting aids are an effective example of both.
This what football recruiting threatens to become if continues the way it is going. It will not be about building a relationship with a prospect the coaching staff has evaluated and is confident will succeed as a student, athlete, and person (in any order). Rather it will be who can make the biggest, flashiest gesture to the highest ranked recruits.
If that happens, hopefully football coaches will spare us the same whining that basketball coaches used because the problems will be the same: more transfers, lower APRs and more APR penalties, and greater influence by third parties in the recruiting process. They will have asked for that result by making Photoshop more important than official visits and graphic artists more important than coaches in the recruiting process.