How Utah football is handling the recruiting dead period caused by COVID-19

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes wide receiver Bryan Thompson (19) runs for an 82 yard touchdown as the University of UtahÕs RunninÕ Utes host Idaho State Bengals in Salt Lake City, Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still in its infancy, but already securing a tight grip on the American sports scene, the NCAA instituted a recruiting dead period on March 13.

The dead period was a safety measure, eliminating all in-person, face-to-face contact between coaches and recruits. Coaches are still allowed to call a recruit or make contact texting, email, Zoom and other electronic means. Since the initial March 13 decision, the dead period has been extended five times as the pandemic rolls on, radically changing what was a highly choreographed way college coaches met and observed high school athletes.

College basketball coaches have taken the brunt of the dead period decisions, losing all 24 evaluation days as a result. With the latest NCAA no-meeting mandate running through at least Sept. 30, college football coaches like Utah’s Kyle Whittingham are about to join them.

The next evaluation period for football was due to begin Tuesday and run through late November, but that is out now. The NCAA has not released a recruiting calendar for the 2020-21 academic year, but as a point of reference, during 2019-20, fall evaluation time for FBS programs was 91 days, from Sept. 1 through Nov. 30. That means coaches can’t see high school athletes in action.

FBS programs previously had an evaluation period from April 15-May 31 wiped out, but at least that one didn’t include actual games. At that time, coaching staffs were allowed to watch prospects participate in offseason camps and showcases.

“It’s really no concern because it’s a level playing field,” Whittingham said last week on a Zoom call with reporters, marking his first public comments since the Pac-12 postponed the 2020 football season to the winter/spring on Aug. 11. “Everybody’s in the same boat, which really doesn’t give an advantage or disadvantage to anybody. My guess is the dead period will be extended beyond Sept. 30. I think it may very well go to the end of the calendar year.”

While coaches can still contact recruits and offer virtual tours of campus facilities through Zoom and the like, the whole thing offers a test of the recruiting chops of Whittingham and his staff, who, to this point, have the 10th-ranked 2021 recruiting class in the Pac-12.

The cornerstone of that class, four-star quarterback Peter Costelli, has been to campus twice, but had to postpone an early-April trip to Salt Lake City before committing on April 11. Costelli could have waited out the pandemic to visit other schools, but with no promise of that happening in the near future, he went with where he was already comfortable.

The Utes were able to get a commitment from three-star running back Ricky Parks on June 28 despite the Tampa, Fla. native having never visited campus. Additionally, Utah had to fight off the University of Iowa to get his commitment.

“There’s a good chance that these recruits will not be able to visit your campus and we can’t leave to go visit them, but if that’s the case, you just have to do the best you can,” Whittingham said. “We feel like we’ve put together a really good class so far.”

For what it’s worth, traditional Utah recruiting strongholds are at various places in terms of playing high school football this fall.

The state of Utah is already playing, but California, which includes Costelli’s Mission Viejo High School, and Hawaii, long seen as fertile Utah recruiting ground, will not begin until at least January. Smaller classifications in Texas began over the weekend, with the bigger schools in the 5A and 6A classifications slated to begin in late September.

Four-star LB Mason Tufaga commits to Utes

Mason Tufaga, a four-star inside linebacker from Saint Louis School in Honolulu, committed to Utah Monday afternoon. Tufaga announced his commitment on Twitter.

Tufaga, the 278th-ranked recruit and the 11th-ranked inside linebacker in the class of 2021 according to the 247sports composite, gives Utah nine verbal commitments in this cycle. Tufaga is the second 2021 four-star commit for the Utes, joining Mission Viejo (Calif.) quarterback Peter Costelli.