What good is having the “Greatest Setting in College Football” if you’re not allowed to show it off?
That’s the question Washington’s coaching staff has been forced to confront as COVID-19 continues to reshape the current recruiting cycle. College football’s recruiting dead period — which prohibits in-person recruiting of any kind — was instituted in March and has been extended through Aug. 31. That wiped out Washington’s spring evaluation period and has squashed any scheduled unofficial visits.
And even if college football returns this fall, don’t expect official visits to follow.
“I would anticipate any kind of model that includes modified crowds will also eliminate the ability to have official visitors, because now you’re having to test them. Can you do that? The response I’m getting and the feeling that I’m getting from talking to college coaches is there will not be official visits this fall,” 247Sports national recruiting editor Brandon Huffman told The Seattle Times on Monday.
“Unofficial visits are up in the air too, just with all the safety protocols. Guys can go to campus. I know there’s guys that have been walking around college campuses right now and not meeting with coaches. So they’re going. You can’t stop them in that respect.”
Likewise, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said publicly this month that “with all the precautions that are being taken relative to your own campus, relative to testing, how is it you can fly in a family that hasn’t been tested, put them up on your campus, in your hotels, and let them walk around campus freely? I just think it’s going to be hard to navigate through this in the fall.
“We’re operating as if you will not (officially) visit this campus this recruiting season, and we’ll have to take our campus to you.”
Now, for the blissfully uninformed, an official visit is a trip where the school is allowed to pay for transportation to and from campus, lodging, three meals per day and tickets to a home sporting event for a recruit and his guardians. It can last up to 48 hours, and a recruit is allowed to take as many as five official visits. He can also take an unlimited amount of unofficial visits — which allow the recruit to visit campus, take a tour of facilities and potentially speak with coaches, provided that he pays for everything himself.
As Huffman stated, the NCAA can’t prohibit a player from financing a campus visit — though it may not include any actual interaction with the coaching staff. He added that “I don’t think official visits are as crucial as they once were, because you see so many guys committing earlier and earlier in the recruiting cycle. I think because we have seen such a larger number of unofficial visitors earlier in cycles — guys taking visits when they’re freshmen and sophomores — they’ve been to the majority of the schools.”
That’s certainly the case with Washington’s in-state targets, most of whom have visited Seattle multiple times. UW currently has 11 verbal commits in the 2021 class, and five of them — quarterback Sam Huard, linebacker Will Latu, tight end Quentin Moore, fullback Caden Jumper and defensive lineman Siaosi Finau — hail from the state of Washington.
But it’ll certainly complicate the recruitment of prospects from California, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Texas and beyond.
“I think with how much Washington does really recruit out of the state, they’ve lost that crucial spring and summer time where they could get players to come up either for unofficials or a camp,” Huffman said. “Now they could potentially lose that in the fall. It could have a bigger effect on their out-of-state recruiting, just because their (commit) numbers right now aren’t as high.
“But the flip side of it is it should help their in-state recruiting, because now these kids are much more familiar with Washington (than other schools). For a lot of kids, it was one of the last schools they had a chance to visit before the shutdown.”
That’s a potentially advantageous arrangement, considering Washington has offered 12 in-state prospects — including five-star recruits Huard, defensive lineman J.T. Tuimoloau and wide receiver Emeka Egbuka — in the 2021 class. Only one of them, four-star outside linebacker and USC pledge Julien Simon, is currently committed to another school. Huffman said that “it certainly should help them in that every in-state target has been to campus. So there’s no lack of familiarity.
“And if they were to take the top 10 to 12 guys in the state, to couple with a few guys out of state, I think they’d be more than happy to call that a 2021 class and call it a day. This is one of the rare years where the talent in-state is so good that you can afford to not have a lot of out-of-state guys.”
He added specifically that the potential visit limitations “may help with, say, Emeka Egbuka — who’s adamant that’s he’s visiting the other three finalists for him. He’s been to two of them besides Washington. He’s been to Ohio State and Clemson, but he hasn’t been to Oklahoma.
“Well, Oklahoma has started to become a real threat for him. If he doesn’t have a chance to visit Oklahoma, did Oklahoma do enough with virtual visits to impress him? So maybe that eliminates Oklahoma, which could be one of the tougher threats. But then again, he’s been to Ohio State twice. That’s probably the leader right now.”
Of course, nearly six long months remain before the December signing period — if, in fact, that early period remains an option. Huffman stated that “I talked to one Pac-12 coordinator last week and he adamantly opposes the December signing period,” arguing that recruits should wait until February to make the most educated decision in a decidedly different cycle. But he added that it’s most likely that the December and February signing periods remain intact, and instead the contact periods could be extended to allow coaches to take in-home visits with recruits in November rather than December.
The only certainty, at this point, is that there is none. And these recruiting reverberations could actually hit the 2022 class hardest. The extended dead period prohibited players from taking unofficial visits, but it also stopped coaches from hitting the road and discovering previously under-recruited prospects. According to Huffman, “There’s guys that I would imagine would have four to six to eight to 10 more offers now had there been a normal recruiting cycle.” UW has already offered nine in-state standouts in 2022, and it’s possible those players won’t be adequately exposed to the Huskies’ rivals.
Washington will likely have to live without official visits this fall. But that sting would subside incredibly quickly if the Huskies can keep their top in-state targets close to home.