For further discussion of several topics covered in Signing Day: Under the Microscope in a bit more depth, I decided to survey opinions from a couple respected sources.
Brian Bennett covers the Big East for ESPN.com. He previously covered the Louisville Cardinals for the Louisville Courier-Journal. I thought it was important to get Brian's input here because he comes from a traditional media background, and isn't usually the type to pay much attention to the recruiting scene. The other four panelists follow recruiting very closely, and he can bring a different perspective to this exercise.
Blake Bonsack has written feature articles for GatorCountry.com and FightinGators.com.
Brian Cook runs mgoblog, one of the most trafficked and well-renown sports blogs around. He also writes for the AOL Fanhouse and CBS Sports.
Matt Overstreet has written feature articles for VirginiaPreps, and is an avid Virginia Tech fan.
wadc45 is an administrator on BuckeyePlanet.com, one of the largest Ohio State forums on the internet.
Question one: What do you think of ESPN's efforts to emerge as a viable competitor to Rivals and Scout?
Blake Bonsack - "I think it was inevitable as they saw the success that Rivals and Scout were gaining over recent years. It's going to take them a while to win over loyal subscribers, but they have the money and infrastructure that will make them the premier recruiting source in the near future. It doesn't hurt that Scout has been imploding ever since they were bought out by Fox. "
Matt Overstreet - "I think ESPN is definitely headed in the right direction. Scouts, Inc. used to be a complete joke that looked like it was run by a lonely recruitnik in his spare time. It's still not passing Rivals or Scout quite yet but it's made leaps and bounds lately, nabbing up a few team sites, creating a few more, hiring more staff and revamping their system. They've got good analysis, film, up to date news and more and they're rapidly approaching Scout in the overall scheme of things and will likely pass them in the next 1-2 years. Rivals is still the king but what used to be a throwaway joke for Mike Farrell whenever Scouts, Inc. got mentioned has now got to be making him get a little more nervous day by day. Every site now has a big company behind it with ESPN on Scouts, Inc., Rivals being supported by Yahoo and Scout having FOX but when you look at it all you've got one site being supported by the unquestioned king of all things sport and that will eventually tip the scales for Scouts, Inc.
What it all boils down to is simply money and ESPN has more of it. If they truly want to see themselves become the kings of recruiting all they have to do is throw cash at it and it appears that's just what they're doing. Rivals got the Army All-American game and in 2 years time ESPN's UnderArmor game is just as prestigious, if not moreso and will probably be the #1 event for kids in the coming years. Beyond that ESPN simply needs to keep adding more team sites and hiring away the more impressive analysts from Scout and Rivals and they'll eventually just put both out of business. I remember talking with people years ago about ESPN and as much of a joke as they were I was well aware that if they actually wanted to be a player in this game, they could easily do so. I'd look for ESPN to pass Scout in the next few years and pull even or pass Rivals by 2012-2013 if they really set themselves to doing it."
wadc45 - "I think it was only natural for ESPN to build a bigger presence in recruiting...they are the one of most recognizable sports media entities in the world, and have been able to partner with a lot of good independent recruiting sites such as Gator Country, TheBigSpur and Bucknuts and I expect them to continue to grow. They have had a few setbacks, especially because I don't think their national recruiting experts really have their finger on the pulse of recruiting the way they think they do, but time will tell if ESPN can become more than just a news reporting site and sponsor of an all-star game."
What, if anything, should the NCAA or individual conferences do to prevent oversigning? Will it be sufficient to just keep bringing negative publicity to the practice?
Brian Bennett - "This is a tough one, because how would you stop the practice? Enforce a hard cap of 85 scholarships at any one time or limit all signing classes to something like 21 or 22? Then you don't give programs much leeway in the case of career-ending injuries, transfers, dismissals, etc. I don't see much that the NCAA or a conference can do as long as scholarships are given out on a one-year renewable basis. That puts all the power in the coaches' hands. I'd prefer to see players be guaranteed a four-year scholarship unless they don't live up to reasonable obligations, but that's never going to happen."
Blake Bonsack - "I don't think there's anything they can do. Until the rampant corruption and problems regarding how recruits are ruled academically eligible or ineligible are reformed, I don't think they should. A lot of that is on the shoulders of the high schools, not the universities, but I think that should be the priority. And yes, I think negative publicity is a good enough deterrent for now."
wadc45 - "I don't have a problem with it when it is part of getting to the 85 scholarship limit...for instance; OSU will likely take more than 25 this year with a few enrolling early to count against last year's class. The difference between that practice and what I see out of some schools is that because of OSU's emphasis on higher admission standards in the last five years, the OSU staff is only recruiting kids they are sure can gain admission to the university. Whereas many schools, especially ones some southern and mid-major programs, seem to oversign knowing full well several student athletes won't qualify and will likely never set foot on campus. To me that is not putting the student athletes’ best interests first.
Question three - Players seem to be rescinding verbal commitments more frequently than ever before. Is there any specific reason why this is occurring, or is the recent trend attributable more to dumb luck and chance?
Brian Bennett - "First of all I'd have to question whether this is actually happening more, or if we just hear about it more. Coverage of recruiting has increased exponentially in the last 10 years. Used to be you'd first hear about a kid when he committed or signed. Then it became when he visited. Now you have sites and services that make front-page news out of a kid's potential visits. Seventeen- and 18-year-olds have always been extremely fickle. I also do think there's more pressure being put on kids to sign early by coaches, and that leads ill-informed decisions, and programs have become more ruthless recruiting kids all the way up until signing day no matter how strong a commitment that prospect might have. But mostly, I think we just hear more about it."
Blake Bonsack - "There's nothing fluky about it. It's the direct result of several factors, first and foremost being the acceleration of the recruiting calendar. Every year, coaches are beginning recruitment earlier and earlier and consequently recruits are forced into making premature decisions. Another major factor is the way that the media (Rivals and Scout particularly) have focused their coverage. Players that decommit or waver are sensationalized and promoted while recruits who go about the process quietly and firmly commit are ignored. It's obnoxious, but that's what sells subscriptions. Journalisitic integrity and impartiality have given way to dollar signs. "
Brian Cook - "Earlier commitments allow much more time for decommitments. Michigan got a "commitment" from a defensive tackle who hadn't ever been on campus. Now he's wavering. Is that a surprise? No. Also, I've seen a major trend towards players committing just to reserve themselves a spot. It makes sense: as coaches push for earlier and earlier commitments they suggest that spots are going to fill up if they don't pull the trigger, so a guy commits so he doesn't get shut out, not because he's absolutely sure he wants to go to the school in question."
Question four: In your opinion, what has been the biggest overall change to college football recruiting over the past few years?
Brian Cook - "The increased coverage of it. Once Rivals and Scout both started making money on subscriptions on the internet -- long thought impossible -- you saw a bunch of lights go on. ESPN's trying to get in the game; newspapers are ramping up free coverage, and all-star games proliferate like weeds. Even high school football featuring big recruits gets on TV."
Matt Overstreet - "I would say the biggest change to recruiting these past few years is the boom of Internet recruiting sites. Kids are literally made or destroyed before they even set foot on campus because of these sites. Stars get even more attention while little known players can get their names and film out to a mass audience and get that scholarship they'd have never gotten otherwise. It's a widely known(although not often admitted) fact that coaching staffs do scour these sites. Whether just to keep tabs on a kid, see what offers a certain kid has or just to see if there's any talent they may have missed, staffs have used these sites, sometimes with great results. We live in a media age and recruiting, formerly a word of mouth(literally) system, is now clearly in the middle of it all and blowing up at an exponential rate."
wadc45 - "Technology no doubt...between the Internet, text messaging, Facebook, etc. there are so many more avenues for coaches, media and fans to access recruits. I remember years ago when the contact a coach had with a recruit was when they were either on the phone or sitting in the recruit's home. That has changed dramatically and not necessarily for the better...the recent story about Bryce Brown's "handler" is an example of how this has had a negative impact on what is supposed to be a fulfilling process for the student athlete. Trying to turn a once in a lifetime decision for a teenager into a business venture for profit is detestable to me. These young people are being forced to grow up so much faster, especially with regards to being media savvy. It's a lot of pressure on a kid who is trying to hang out with his buddies for the last few months of his high school career before entering the middle of a media storm as a major DI athlete."
Question five: Do you favor an early signing period in college football? Would such a proposal help or hurt prospective student athletes?
Brian Bennett - "I am in favor of it. Coaches spend way too much time babysitting the kids they've already recruited, and many players know early on where they want to go to school. Why not let them go ahead and sign in, say, the first week of December and be done with it? Some argue that it would take away the focus of the season for coaches, but these early signees would mostly be the ones the school had already successfully recruited in the summer and fall anyway. The one caveat I'd include if I were running things would be that the letter of intent would become void if the coach were fired or if he left for another job. Again, though, that's never going to happen."
Brian Cook - "Sort of. I'd like a nonbinding letter of intent program. You sign it and 1) you can't take official visits to other schools and 2) other schools are not allowed to contact you in any way whatsoever. You can rescind it at any time up until the official signing date. This system seems a lot better than the current one -- you're not really a commit until you sign, and that has some meaning -- but doesn't lock players in any earlier than they get locked in now."
Matt Overstreet - "There literally is no downside to an early signing day. The amount of pressure these kids get from colleges only increases once the season is over and coaching staffs literally do nothing but recruit 24 hours a day from December to signing day in early February. Kids once solid to a program are now pressured and phoned until they can't take it anymore and switch. It's no secret why kids are far more prone to switching during those months than during the season. An early signing day would allow the kids to get the process off their backs and would ultimately provide coaching staffs, who worry constantly about all their recruits, a little relief. Basketball has already proven the benefits of an early signing day and there's been little to no negative reaction to it. College football recruiting has changed in the past few years with respects to when kids verbal. What used to be that 75%+ of classes were filled up during the season till signing day has rapidly become having 75%+ of the class already verbaled by the time the 1st game comes in September. Many programs are now averaging 2-4 verbals from juniors before the summer even comes and then receiving another 10-20 verbals during the summer. Many programs are barely picking up any recruits during the season and instead have to spend their time reassuring kids and watching over them to make sure no team comes to steal them away. An early signing day would only make sense in today's world of fast-paced recruiting."
I would like to thank everyone involved yet again for being willing to participate, and volunteering their valuable time to weigh in candidly on these topics.