For some time now, Randy Edsall has been formulating a plan to change college football recruiting. Now, entering his fourth season as Maryland’s football coach, he wants to spread the word.
“My whole concern,” he says, “is what are we doing to the young people of America?”
His plan, laid out during a recent interview, would change the process in which high school prospects are offered scholarships. College football programs are extending unofficial offers to recruits earlier and earlier, sometimes when they are still in middle school. Edsall wants to restrict offers to only seniors.
Everything else about the year-round recruiting calendar would remain the same, like mid-spring evaluation periods and unlimited unofficial visits for underclassmen, but under Edsall’s plan, scholarship offers wouldn’t be allowed until Sept. 1 of an athlete’s senior year. Currently, schools can extend written offers on Sept. 1 of an athlete’s junior year.
“You’re trying to offer kids without knowing if they’ll graduate high school,” he said. “People just throw out these offers and there’s not a lot of validity to it.”
Second, Edsall wants to transfer the ability to offer scholarships from athletic departments to the academic side. In his plan, which hasn’t yet advanced beyond the idea phase and a recent conversation with NCAA President Mark Emmert, only a school’s admissions department would be allowed to extend scholarship offers.
Each summer before prospects’ senior year of high school, college coaches would hand a list of desired recruits to the school’s admissions officers for vetting and approval. A scholarship would then be offered only if the recruit is deemed academically viable.
“Figure everything out academically first and then offer,” Edsall said. “Not the other way around.
“The model to me is broken.”
Maryland, like nearly every other high-level football team, has offered scholarships to high school underclassmen in the past. The Terrapins extended one to McNamara offensive lineman Damian Prince, the prize of the team’s recruiting class this year, when he was a ninth-grader. But it fosters a mentality of one-upmanship, Edsall said. Everyone wants to make first contact.
“That’s how crazy it’s gotten,” Gonzaga High School Coach Aaron Brady said. “I think for the college coaches it’s gotten out of hand for them, too, but the problem is everybody’s doing it and everyone’s afraid to get left behind.”
Of course, Edsall’s proposed system would be mined for possible advantages. Teams could still scout and recruit eighth-graders, so everyone might still vie for first contact. Admissions officers could feel pressure to support the school’s athletic interests by approving underqualified students.
Edsall’s idea could face obstacles, too. Many college coaches likely would not want the power to offer scholarships taken away from them, and such changes would be difficult for the NCAA to enforce because coaches could still promise scholarships, conditional on academic success, even if they couldn’t officially extend an offer.
“There’s always going to be one of those hush-hush, wink-winks,” Urbana High School Coach Dave Mencarini said. “College coaches are good at finding the gray area of anything.”
But Edsall has found support in the high school ranks. Brady recently passed this idea on to several colleagues. Most, he said, have agreed with its purpose.
“There’s a lot of offers that get thrown around right now, and sometimes there’s no validity to them,” he said. “You don’t know if the kid can get into school or not. I think this would solve a lot of the issues that are out there.”
Others expressed trepidation about logistics.
“I don’t know what that would really change, because I think schools would really recruit the same way,” said Steve Specht, head coach at St. Xavier in Cincinnati and a member of the USA Football board of directors. “They just couldn’t make the official offer until their senior year”
If the status quo remains, Edsall and Specht believe, the NCAA should adopt an early-signing period that begins in December, a proposal currently in the early stages of NCAA approval. Currently, prospects who have given non-binding oral commitments still can be recruited by other schools until they sign a binding letter-of-intent in February. Edsall says recruits should be able to end the process — and the distractions that come along with it — early if they so desire.
Edsall also worries that college football programs are starting to follow the NFL model, with schools hiring personnel evaluators and talent scouts who would be paid to recruit but not coach. Such a practice has already begun at powerhouse schools that can afford such positions.
At that point, Edsall said, the NCAA might as well adopt a free-market system for paying players.
“It’s a façade almost, because it’s more about athletics than it is the student-athletes,” he said. “We have to step back and say, ‘Whoa, we got off track a little bit.’ ”