MORGANTOWN — When the NCAA offered assistance last week, West Virginia and others found obstacles. These are the minor nuisances that accompany nuance, but these are the things the Mountaineers must nevertheless solve in the near future.
“It’s going to take a minute to get everything straightened out and figured out and planned out,” said Ryan Dorchester, WVU football’s director of player personnel.
The NCAA’s Division I Council adopted a series of changes intended to organize and modernize recruiting, and those are probably the eventual outcomes. The bundle of well-meaning rules was roundly supported by the Football Bowl Subdivision, with all five Power 5 conferences and four of the five Group of 5 conferences voting for it. Conference USA chose to dissent. The expected approval from the Division I Board of Directors vote next week would set an Aug. 1 starting date for the biggest changes concerning the recruiting calendar.
Previously, a school couldn’t host recruits until September of the player’s senior year. Under the new legislation, a player can visit as soon as April 1 and through “the Sunday before the last Wednesday in June.” Schools can build relationships sooner now, and that’s useful because of a new signing period.
Currently, a month-long signing period begins with National Signing Day on the first Wednesday in February. That would remain with the new rules, but it would be preceded by a brief signing period in December, perhaps coinciding with the start of the month-long signing period for junior-college players.
If a kid is seriously committed to a school, he can sign six or so weeks earlier than normal. Coaches don’t have to spend time between the end of their regular seasons and signing day visiting and further convincing kids who don’t need convincing. Or schools will learn sooner than normal they’re out of the running. Either way, newfound time can be spent on other targets.
It all makes sense, but it still creates problems. Begin with December. The Mountaineers like to use official visits — that is, all-expense-paid visits — in December. They don’t like using the regular season.
“We’ve quit doing that,” Dorchester said. “It’s something we won’t do. We may make an exception for a kid who graduates in December and is making his decision soon and has been here before. Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for a bad visit.”
There isn’t a lot of time for the player and his family to meet with WVU’s coaches and players, and the visit is at the mercy of the schedule and other variables that are hard to combat — variables that aren’t present after the regular season ends.
“People say wins and losses don’t affect recruits, but they’re down here all weekend and they’re subjected to the mood of the town and the team and the coaching staff, and it you take a bad beat, it’s hard,” Dorchester said. “It’s just human nature, and it can present some issues that have a huge impact on their decision that you don’t have any control over.”
With players permitted to sign in December, the Mountaineers must be open to more official visits in the regular season, which means making those weekends work no matter the circumstances.
Head coach Dana Holgorsen will be more available now than before since he’s not the offensive coordinator and isn’t doing the detailed preparation for calling plays. WVU will also use the Marriott at Waterfront Place as the team hotel the night before games, ending a longstanding relationship with Lakeview Golf Resort & Spa. The idea is the new digs are nicer and recruits will be more impressed by staying there than at Lakeview.
There’s still not much the Mountaineers can do about when games start, about how the opponent plays, about recruits sitting in the cold for four hours, about giving kids the attention they feel they deserve after trekking all the way to campus.
Then again, there are no regular-season games in April, May and June. WVU can pay for official visits then, and recruits won’t have to pay to see campus as part of a summer camp or an unofficial visit in the regular season. It should help schools in remote locations that are difficult to get to, but it also comes with limitations, beginning with but in no way limited to the absence of games and the impression 60,000 people can make.
“The April and May time line is going to be interesting, because that’s when we’re in an evaluation period and our coaches are out recruiting and our players have final exams, and then they’re actually gone before the summer sessions start,” Dorchester said.
“I get June. It makes sense to me, because we’re here, we’re in camps, the players are here. That’s good. But April and May is just a strange time.”
The Mountaineers had probably better get used to it, and coaches had probably better get used to the cycle of recruiting trips that start on Mondays and are interrupted on Thursdays so they can travel from various spots on the map to be on campus on Fridays for official visits.
But never mind for who. For what?
“We haven’t seen all the guys we’ve targeted yet, so the coaches are on the road and in the schools because they want to see them,” Dorchester said. “I’m struggling to find a scenario when one of our coaches calls me up and says, ‘We need to bring this kid up this weekend for an official [visit]. He’s only a high school junior. He’s going to be a senior. But we need to get him up there now.’
“That’s what’s crazy to me. That’s why I say, ‘Why?’ I think that’s the part that’s going to take some time to figure out, and that’s why it feels like June would be the month we’ll try to utilize.”