Neal Brown had a gut feeling. It’s not that West Virginia University’s football coach even wanted to be right about his hunch, but at least the Mountaineers were prepared.
It shouldn’t have surprised Brown and his coaching staff that the NCAA extended its recruiting dead period from through the end of May to through the end of June as a result of the continuing coronavirus pandemic. He predicted the move in a video conference before the association made its ruling.
“I can understand the argument,” Brown said. “I’d probably be surprised if we were allowed to have any kind of recruiting visitors on campus over the summer.”
Even before the NCAA decided to extend the dead period, WVU canceled a big recruiting weekend that was planned for June. As athletic programs have done throughout the pandemic, WVU’s football coaches wait for new developments in how the United States will operate, and that has put a sizeable kink into their recruiting plans.
Planning out too far ahead is ill-advised, Brown said, because any development, positive or negative, can dash those plans and force the Mountaineers back to square one.
“You’ve got to be careful during this,” Brown said. “You don’t want to waste time. I haven’t gone through a detailed camp plan or four-to-six-week plan to return to play, because I don’t want to sit here and waste time on unknowns. I don’t know what it’s going to be yet.”
Yet the longer the pandemic lasts — and the longer football programs must maintain social distancing policies — coaches will have to decide how to move forward, even if that means using completely different strategies.
Early in the pandemic’s lifetime, Brown and staff still wanted prospects to take visits to Morgantown. They believe face-to-face contact and actual tours were the best way to make informed decisions. The longer recruiting is limited, the more staffs will have to consider changing tactics.
“We’ve tried in our normal high school recruiting and junior college recruiting, we’ve tried to hold the line that if you haven’t been on campus, it’s probably not in your best interests to commit,” Brown said, “because you probably don’t know yet.
“Now, the longer this goes,” he continued, “we may have to change our thinking and increase what we’re doing virtually.”
While that may work for prospects WVU wants to sign in December or February, that won’t work for prospects the Mountaineers want on campus and ready to contribute this fall. Brown has said he still wants to add a couple of pieces to the 2020 roster, and those likely would come in the form of graduate transfers.
Those transfers, however, will be searching for new homes right in the middle of those recruiting restrictions and likely will have to make their final decisions in that same span. WVU has been able to thrive in that environment. The Mountaineers picked up former Arizona starting defensive back Scottie Young and former Maryland backup rush end Bryce Brand, both since Saturday.
While WVU has navigated those waters so far, Brown said that, successful or not, the current landscape will make searching for grad transfers more difficult.
“The graduate transfers aren’t going to have that choice,” he said. “They’re going to have to make decisions based on conversations, virtual meetings, but they’re not going to have an official visit. That is a negative byproduct of this.”