Northwestern head football coach Pat Fitzgerald outlined his ideas for a major overhaul of the recruiting system at Big Ten Media Days. Fitzgerald’s ideas are good, but there’s just two problems: they don’t accomplish his goal of slowing down the recruiting process and they are exactly the opposite of the current majority view of how to reform football recruiting.
These are the major bullet points in Fitzgerald’s plan:
- Eliminate the concept of verbal offers and verbal commitments by allowing prospects to sign at any time following a 48-hour “cooling off” period;
- Replace paper NLIs with a fully electronic process;
- Automatically release prospects when a football program commits a Level I/Level II violation resulting in probation or if the coach that signed the prospect leaves;
- Allow schools to pay for unofficial visits.
Fitzgerald’s goal is to slow down the recruiting process. If prospects can sign scholarship offers at any time, then coaches will not offer as early. And if schools can pay for unofficial visits (which effectively means unlimited official visits for prospects), fewer prospects will commit before seeing the school in person then decommitting once they take a visit.
It seems unlikely though that Fitzgerald’s ideas will slow down the recruiting process. Fitzgerald’s plan assumes that coaches will all think like him, not offering prospects until later than they are now. And that prospects will think like he thinks they think, not signing an offer until they take a visit.
But the acceleration comes from the prospect’s side. They want as secure a scholarship offer as they can get as soon as possible. If prospects have the opportunity to sign at any time, they will push to do so as early as possible. And some coaches will oblige, signing prospects earlier and earlier, even before a visit. The biggest difference from the current system would be that prospects would be signed to NLIs rather than just verbally committed. That would create more release fights instead of the simple process of just decommitting.
Ultimately Fitzgerald does not identify a bigger problem than his own displeasure with the current recruiting environment:
He likens the commitment to an engagement and national signing day to the wedding. If a committed prospect decides to visit another school, he is, in essence, going on a date with someone else. That, to Fitzgerald, means in no uncertain terms that the engagement and marriage is off.
“You want to get rid of this decommitment and pull an offer nonsense and put some integrity into it, put teeth in what it means,” he said. “I get made fun of for it and I don’t care…
Fitzgerald should step back and take another look at the current recruiting landscape. If you do not approach a verbal commitment as an engagement, football avoids many of the problems of other sports and is actually a fairly late and/or slow recruiting process. Fitzgerald’s plan might fit how he views recruiting but it would not actually fix what he sees as broken.