College football seems to reside on its own planet and follows rules that no one seems to know or fully understand, and this leads us to the sideshow we now have in football recruiting. The problems that currently plague college football recruiting are not new, but are now in the spotlight due to the extra attention from the media and social network platforms.
College football is a billion-dollar industry built on the backs of wealthy donors and amateur athletes. . And the combination of this money and the pressures that it brings sets the table for key shareholders to cut corners to save their own livelihood and that of the organization. The first rule of that any investigator follows is to follow the money trail, and that is the case here. Just about everyone has their price to corrupt their morals and that is exactly were the problems start.
The whole story begins with the football program itself and the stakeholders involved, along with their selfish motivations. Programs that are successful bring in substantial amounts of money through ticket and merchandise sales, concessions, advertising, endorsements, government grants and of course, television contracts. Schools become accustomed to a certain level of revenue brought in from these various sources, but that fuels and omnipresent need for the organization to consistently strive for more help in achieving further success on the field which begets further revenue.
Under these conditions, athletic officials (university presidents, athletic directors and coaches) are placed under intense pressure by the school, media and especially the fans. This pressure can push key leaders to do things that they may not have considered in another circumstance. College athletics is a supremely competitive world by nature, and if an AD or, in some cases, university president, feel that success is falling out of their grasp, they become desperate and become open to leverage their position for a quick fix or in some cases a quick kickback.
Enter the program boosters, where pride, greed and ego all drive the decisions behind their relationships with many major college programs. Most programs have some sort of a history of success with boosters that base their pride, ego and even their identity to the success of the program. Given that some programs become desperate for a quick fix and that some wealthy donors are willing to do whatever it takes to win is a recipe for the mud pie that we all have to feast on today.
The history of college football is littered with instances of programs wilting to the pressures of keeping up with all the other programs that have inherent advantages, legal or otherwise. And that continues to this day, with many programs facing a plethora of sanctions stemming from various "agreements" they made with boosters and agents alike.
The problem also extends to the fans and organizations that are loosely tied to the respective schools. Many recruiting websites foster an environment that turns ordinary kids who play a sport well in to mythical demi-gods that must be wooed at all cost if your program has any chance to compete. So not only are the University officials under pressure to win at all costs, the are pressured by virtue of the media and fans to do whatever it takes to "get" these special athletes.
This is the backdrop that current NCAA programs must navigate to achieve the goals that they set and have set for them. As another recruiting season comes to an end, the ugly realities once again come to the surface and reveal the vile underbelly that is NCAA football recruiting.
Coaches regularly push the boundaries of the rules of recruiting from the use of intermediaries to deliver messages to recruits during dead periods to coaches stealing other coaches during the postseason to acquire their relationships with key recruits. These are just some of the most mild actions that take place, and many more instances of a nefarious nature happen with startling regularity. It all smells like the combination of greed, desperation and corruption hidden under the veil of competition and moral relativism.
Teams, coaches and athletic directors are put in an uncomfortable position of falling behind the field if they do not engage in these actions.
Recently, a new complication to the recruiting process has become apparent, and that is the interactions between fans and recruits via social networking. This is particularly troublesome because fans feel empowered to influence a recruit to pick one school over another. Some recruits have actually cited this as a reason for picking one school over another, which just further emboldens the obsessed fans. On the flip side, this also emboldens the recruit's ego and elevates them to celebrity status, and it becomes a game and lovefest.
As the recruiting season wears on, the landscape becomes the Wild West, with recruits changing teams on a weekly basis or coaches recruiting for one team while on the payroll of another prior to switching jobs. It is also no secret that many teams actively recruit athletes after they "verbally committed" to another team and further send his head in to a tailspin.
So how does this broken system right itself and serve its original purpose? There are a number of key changes that could address some of these problems.
First, there needs to be a limit to the number of times that a team can contact an athlete. Although nearly impossible to enforce completely, at least it sets a structure and forces teams to use their time with each recruit economically. If violated, stiff sanctions would ensue, and this does not include unofficial and official visits that the recruit initiates. This number would be set based on the input from coaches based on their experiences in past years and would probably be set as an aggregate number or a limit on the contacts per month.
This would achieve at least two ends, including coaches not being able to smother a kid until he commits, and it would inevitably push recruiting later since most coaches want to be the last voice in the ear of the kid before signing day.
Second, there would be an ability for kids to sign with a team earlier than February. As of right now, the coaches spend a lot of resources trying to fend off other teams from their recruits that have verbally committed. This takes the pressure off of those kids and the coaches alike and allows them to recruit more efficiently and without unnecessary animosity with other teams.
This could materialize in another set signing day during the summer, or it could be a limit to the amount of time that an offer is valid and can be accepted from the time it was extended. The ends that this would achieve include the ability for a kid to choose a team and move on if they are ready, and it would avoid some of the last-minute shadiness of the final push in February as signing day approaches.
Third, the timeframe that a team can contact and recruit a player needs to be strictly defined and enforced. Under this framework, a team could not start recruiting a player until he has completed his junior year in high school.
Fourth, any coach that leaves a team prior to signing day would not be allowed to join another staff until after signing day. You could call this the Tosh Lupoi rule, where he was lured to Washington from Cal with a month to go in the recruiting season, and it resulted in a collapse in Cal's recruiting class.
Starting with these steps would eliminate a lot of the most visible problems with the recruiting process, but some of the deeper systematic problems would require further NCAA involvement, which seems unlikely. It is not the end all, but it is a start to some of the issues that should not occur and really have no reason to exist.