Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been more than 14 months since any coaching staff, in any sport, anywhere at the Division I level has come face-to-face with a prospective recruit.
Normalcy, or at least some legitimate semblance of it, is about to make an emphatic return to the recruiting end of college athletics, though. For Kyle Whittingham, it can’t come soon enough.
“It’s been a long time, we haven’t been in recruits’ homes or had them on our campus recruiting for over a year, so it’s going to be good to get back to a normal routine,” the Utah football coach told The Salt Lake Tribune in a recent interview. “We have a full slate of official visits we’re set to host next month, along with a bunch of unofficial visits where the players pay their own way to check the campus out. It’s going to be more like what we’re used to in years past.”
On March 13, 2020, as the pandemic solidified its grip on all facets of life in the United States, the NCAA instituted a recruiting dead period, which banned all on- and off-campus, in-person recruiting contact. In short, face-to-face contact between coaching staffs and recruits was banned across all sports.
The dead period was extended multiple times over 14 months as the pandemic wore on, essentially reducing recruiting to phone calls, text messages, FaceTime and Zoom. Without evaluating the vast majority of their 2021 targets in person, Whittingham and his staff still managed to pull in a top-35 recruiting class, not to mention seven Power Five commits out of the NCAA Transfer Portal.
On June 1, the dead period will end, once again allowing for permissible in-person recruiting contact. As Whittingham alluded to, Utah will be getting back to business as usual, hosting recruits, traveling to see recruits, and getting a true evaluation of a recruit’s potential as a future Ute.
A look at a normal, non-pandemic recruiting calendar offers a closer look at just how much in-person recruiting and evaluation time was lost, not only by Utah, but by the rest of the country.
Had the pandemic never happened, April 15-May 29, 2020, would have been an evaluation period. Sept. 1-Nov. 28, aka the 2020 high school football season, would have been another, and April 15-May 29 of this year another. All three of those evaluation periods, totaling 179 days, were wiped out by the pandemic.
“It was very difficult, mainly because you couldn’t see the players in person, and that’s a big part of the evaluation,” Whittingham said. “Seeing them in person, sizing up their frames, meeting the family, that type of thing. This was the first time ever, in my 30-plus years of coaching, where I was involved in signing a recruiting class that we really didn’t meet hardly any of the players at all in person. There were a few that we’d had a chance to see in person before COVID hit, had them on campus, but it was unlike any other year and hopefully, it never happens again.
“That being said, we feel really good about the class that we signed. I don’t want to sound disparaging to the guys coming in here, because we really like them.”
Whittingham and his staff cannot get the past 14 months and those 179 evaluation days back, but to the NCAA’s credit, the college athletics governing body is trying to make up for lost time.
There will be two quiet periods in the coming months, June 1-27 and July 25-31, both of which allow camps and on-campus visits. When the NCAA announced the June 1 return to regular recruiting activities on April 15, it noted that the Division I Council issued a waiver permitting on-campus evaluations during unofficial visits on the days camps and clinics are allowed within those two quiet periods.
Furthermore, the number of football evaluation days for this fall will increase from 42 to 56.
“I think it’s a good decision by the NCAA, and yes, it does help us,” Whittingham said. “It lets us get caught up, so to speak, and we’re going to maximize everything they’re allowing. It’s a good way to get back into the flow of things, to give us some extra concessions that we can utilize as we dive back into recruiting.”