Before the NCAA took the step of extending its dead period on recruiting as concerns over the COVID-19 outbreak continued to grow, Boston College football coach Jeff Hafley was already beginning to brace for the fact he and his staff would not be able to go on the road to meet with recruits.
Under normal circumstances, coaches around the country would be preparing to travel to see prospective recruits in person. The evaluation period was set to begin Wednesday. But the NCAA order prohibits coaches from any off-campus recruiting activities through May during the public health crisis.
In his fourth month on the job, it was important for Hafley to put together a plan as he faced uncharted territory. Programs could still reach out to recruits via phone, e-mail, social media, and standard mail. Hafley started by making a plan for which coaches would stay in touch with recruits.
“We have to set those up because if we’re just texting kids right now, we’re not getting in front of them, we’re not going to be able to develop the relationship,” Hafley said.
Maintaining a connection with recruits is critical as Hafley looks to make an imprint in his first year as head coach. The recruiting moratorium is necessary, but it also creates a hurdle.
“The hard part for us is no one’s been around this new staff yet to see the energy and the interaction face-to-face with them,” Hafley said. “It will be hard. So we’re going to have to find some creative ways through social media and through face time and through stuff on the computer to do the best we can. We have to find ways to show kids what we’re all about.”
Right now, like much of the world, recruiting is at a standstill.
The SEC, ACC, Big Ten, and Big 12 took the first steps in halting recruiting in March. The NCAA initially mandated all recruiting cease through April 15. At the start of the month, they extended the mandate through May. The ripple effect was felt when camps, competitions, and clinics around the country were subsequently canceled as well.
Getting up-close looks at prospective players and building relationships with them isn’t an option. It’s a reality BC had to face when the coronavirus pandemic forced campuses across the country to shut down.
The catalyst for BC suspending its sports was a football recruiting weekend that was planned the same week the NCAA Tournament was canceled. Hafley called athletic director Martin Jarmond to tell him he wasn’t comfortable having recruits on campus.
“He was on it even beforehand,” Jarmond said.
There was a cost, obviously.
“That’s a huge recruiting miss for us,” Jarmond said. “We had guys coming that we might not get them to come on campus again. They might decide now just on reputation versus getting a feel for the new staff and the new energy and all that. So that’s a big miss for us. But he was one of the first ones to say, ‘You know what, I’ll forfeit that because it’s not the right thing to do.’ ”
BC is one of several programs adjusting to an altered recruiting landscape. Coaches lose the ability to see players at camps, clinics, and tournaments. Players lose the chance to put their talent on display.
Between video conferencing, phone calls, texts, and mail, coaches have had to be creative about keeping in contact with recruits while also staying within NCAA rules.
Boston University athletic director Drew Marrochello said, “We’re still connecting virtually, certainly the recruiting dead period being extended has impacted coaches and their ability to be on the road and to see the next crop of talent, but they’re still connecting with their teams, there’s still a lot of things to do.
The moratorium, at least, makes things equal for all programs since everything’s on hold, said UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford. Complications could come if the moratorium stretches beyond May.
“Now that everybody’s in the same boat, I think it’s just leveled the playing field,” Bamford said. “Strangely enough, the timing of it is not impacting recruiting as much as some of the other operational things just based on the time of year. Now if this thing goes through the summer and people aren’t able to travel or tournaments aren’t held because of social distancing and things like that, I think it throws a monkey wrench in everybody’s plans in terms of evaluating talent, connecting with those student-athletes, having those conversations."
Bamford said much of the work for its 2020 recruiting class had already been done with the exception of some transfers.
“I think everybody is put at a disadvantage, but the good news is we’re all in the same boat, so nobody’s got a leg-up on anybody else,” Bamford said. “But I think in the end, it’ll probably end up hurting the prospects, by some measure, because they won’t be able to get out and play and have our coaches see them.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.