Think of a dating app … without the dates.
You can still swipe right or left. You can still see a prospective suitor’s photos and read an intensely edited profile. If you match, you can still chat. You can still make small talk. You can still flirt.
You just can’t meet.
This is the current reality in college football recruiting during the coronavirus shutdown.
You can still connect with college coaches. You can still share your tape. You can still text and talk. You can still establish relationships, hear a pitch and take a (virtual) tour.
You just can’t visit.
And amid an ongoing recruiting dead period — which on Wednesday was extended through at least July 31 — recruits are increasingly committing to schools without stepping foot on campus. They’re committing to coaches they’ve conversed with on Zoom or FaceTime but haven’t physically met.
Or, to complete the analogy, they’re committing to relationships without going on a date.
“I’ve never used (a dating app) because I’ve been married for 20-plus years,” 247Sports national recruiting editor Brandon Huffman said. “I don’t even know what direction swiping left or right goes, but I think it’s going to work both ways. You’re going to see recruits (who committed without ever visiting campus) go to a campus and be like, ‘Dude, this is not for me. The virtual tour didn’t tell me what the town was really like, what the school was really like.’
“So I think we’re gearing up to see a gigantic number of decommitments happen, and schools may be encouraging (committed) players to look elsewhere, too.”
Take Washington, for example. Last month, three-star offensive lineman Robert Wyrsch committed to UW without ever visiting Seattle. His spring break unofficial visit was canceled because of coronavirus concerns. Instead, Husky offensive-line coach Scott Huff provided a virtual tour via FaceTime, and that apparently was enough.
Or consider the curious case of four-star Goodyear, Arizona, cornerback Steven Ortiz. In April Ortiz spurned UW and many others by committing to Minnesota … despite the fact that the Gophers had begun recruiting Ortiz only roughly two months earlier, and he had never visited or physically met his future coaches. He told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck “is always a guy that is going to keep it 100 (percent) with me. I fell in love with Coach Fleck after our first couple of phone calls, and I want to play for him.”
Of course, time will tell if that’s really true. Considering the unique circumstances this offseason, the 2021 cycle is being labeled “the year of the decommit.” The expectation is that, when players can finally go through a more traditional recruiting process, many will reconsider their previous commitments.
And on the other side, it’s possible an increased number of programs will fall out of love with their commits as well.
“I think we’re going to see a lot of encouragements (from coaching staffs to their own commits) to open up recruitments,” Huffman said. “I think we’re going to see that in droves, and I think it’s going to be because a lot of evaluations have been done strictly off of film. There hasn’t been a lot of in-person evaluations, just eyeballing. I think we’re going to get down to it, and there’s going to be some schools that are going to be like, ‘Oh, shoot. This kid is a lot different than we thought he was. He’s not as big as we thought. He can’t move like we thought.’
“The spring evaluation period was usually where you separate yourself a little bit from just the film evaluations. You do much more thorough athletic evaluations in person during that time.”
Only this time around, the spring evaluation period was canceled. Coaches were unable to evaluate prospects up-close at practices and camps. Instead they were forced to rely more on the sometimes-limited available film.
Looking ahead, a string of national decommitments could actually pay dividends for UW. The Huskies have started slow for 2021, with a class that ranks fourth in the Pac-12 and 55th nationally by 247Sports. They boast seven commits (and six three-star prospects), led by five-star Kennedy Catholic quarterback Sam Huard. According to the 247Sports database they have offered 20 players from Texas — second only to California — and have yet to receive a commitment. And in Arizona — one of their most historically important recruiting regions — UW has offered six players, and five have committed elsewhere.
Still, UW’s 2021 class will ultimately be defined by the success (or failure) with in-state prospects. With Huard already committed, coach Jimmy Lake and Co. are continuing to pursue five-star defensive tackle J.T. Tuimoloau, five-star wide receiver Emeka Egbuka, four-star offensive lineman Owen Prentice and four-star wide receivers Jabez Tinae and Junior Alexander. Four-star Tacoma linebacker Julien Simon verbally committed to USC this month.
But in an unprecedented recruiting cycle, verbal commitments may be more unreliable than ever. And that’s saying something, considering that there were 621 decommitments nationally in the 2020 cycle, according to 247Sports.
On dating apps, after all, the success rates are often suboptimal. And though a dramatic spike in decommitments seems inevitable, Huffman expects most recruits to sign with their chosen schools in December nevertheless.
“Assuming we have a season, and assuming we have official visits, I think the longer the dead period gets pushed back you’re going to start to see more schools putting pressure on kids to decide,” Huffman said. “So I think guys will be committing in December, and I think guys want to get on a college campus (and enroll early) more and more now. It’s becoming a little bit easier for guys to graduate (high school) early.
“So I don’t think we’re going to see a huge spike in February signings, even with the pandemic. I think you’re going to see more guys open up their recruitments, but they’re going to still commit somewhere else pretty quickly after.”