The art of Division I Football recruiting

by MOSES LEOS III

With Hays Hays junior Connor Lanfear verbally committed to the University of Texas football program as of June 9, some questions will no doubt arise about the recruiting process of college athletic programs.

Specifically, what are the boundaries for recruiting in college football? What is – and is not – allowed?

First and foremost, one has to understand what the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) defines as recruiting.

According to the NCAA website, ncaa.org, recruiting is, “Any solicitation of prospective student-athletes or their parents by an institutional staff member or by a representative of the institution’s athletics interests for the purpose of securing a prospective student-athlete’s enrollment and ultimate participation in the institution’s intercollegiate athletics program.”

The goal is to control intrusion into the lives of student athletes, so the NCAA developed a series of recruiting guidelines to aid coaching staffs in the process.

Issues in recruiting and fairness in collegiate athletics has been a constant fight for the NCAA. By the 1970s and 1980s, the organization was rife with violation cases. The most famous case was the “Pony-gate” scandal at Southern Methodist University (SMU), which spanned from the mid-1970s to 1986, when the NCAA handed down the infamous “death penalty” ruling.

It was revealed boosters, which included former Texas Governor Bill Clements, paid prospective players to play for the program and continued to pay them once they were on campus, among other improprieties.

The 1980s also saw a tremendous change in the scope of how college sports are presented. Prior to 1984, the NCAA only allowed six television appearances for college sports every two years.

In 1984, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the NCAA’s limitations on television appearances violated antitrust laws. The Supreme Court allowed a more liberal stance on television marketing for college sports.

The higher visibility of collegiate sports, along with a want to not repeat the “Pony-gate” scandal, led the NCAA to tighten recruiting tactics for college coaches.

What, then, can coaches do?

According to the NCAA, coaches can begin the process of observing a prospective student-athlete once they reach the ninth grade. However, only the head coach or assistant coach may do so, as they are “recruiting coordinators.” In addition, they must do so only during specific contact periods set by the NCAA.

During these contact periods, coaches have the ability to talk face-to-face with prospective students and their families. They can watch them compete, as well as visit them at their respective schools. Coaches can also write or telephone student-athletes or their parents.

However, the NCAA strictly regulates phone calls and interaction with prospective student-athletes.

During their freshman and sophomore year, coaches cannot call prospective student-athletes; the athletes may call coaches at their own expense. Beginning in their junior year, coaches may begin the process of phoning prospective student-athletes, but are limited to one call between April 15 and May 31. Once a student reaches his/her senior year in high school, college coaches are able to call once a week, beginning on Sept. 1.

Text messaging was banned from college football recruiting in 2007.

Off-campus contact is also limited. Coaches are forbidden to engage in any off-campus contact with prospective students until their senior year. After the last Saturday in November, coaches are able to make contact off campus. Coaches can contact prospective students and their families a maximum of six times.

Equally stringent are policies regarding official and unofficial visits.

An official visit is one where a college or university pays for the student and his/her parents or parent-guardian. During these trips, the college or university pays for lodging, meals, transportation to and from the campus and reasonable entertainment expenses, including three tickets to a home game.

Conversely, an unofficial visit is entirely paid for by the prospective student and his/her family. Three tickets to a home game are the only expenses paid for by a university to a prospective student-athlete during an unofficial visit.

While there are no limits to unofficial visits, only during a his/her senior year can the student make an official visit, and only after classes begin for the prospective student.

Prospective student-athletes are allowed one official visit to a college, with a limit of five total visits to Division I and II schools.

Evaluations contain the only aspect of continuity in recruiting. Coaches are allowed one evaluation during September, October and November and two evaluations (one athletic, one academic) from April 15-May 31 in all four years of high school.

At any time a university can offer a prospective student a scholarship. However  a student-athlete can only make a verbal commitment, as was the case with Lanfear. Coaches and universities cannot publicly discuss a student-athlete until they sign their National Letter of Intent.

Other regulations include the type of recruiting material sent to athletes. Freshman and sophomores can receive questionnaires and brochures only. After September 1 of their junior year, coaches can send prospective student-athletes printed material with no limitations.

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