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Josh Malone and the Future of Recruiting

Josh Malone, four-star receiver from Tennessee, has opted to stay at home and play for the Tennessee Volunteers. Flipping the normal routine, Malone had signed with three other schools (Clemson, Georgia, and Florida State) prior to committing. That lead to the odd situation where college coaches were able to talk about Malone before he had committed. Malone also had four scholarship offers that while not set in stone were far more secure than a verbal scholarship offer or a written offer he could not sign. Malone was in this position because he was a highly-touted midyear enrollee. He was able to sign before the February signing date because he was on track to graduate in December, which the NCAA clarified in an interpretation earlier this year. Because he was such a sought-after recruit, at least four coaches were willing to commit a scholarship to Malone without any binding commitment (or commitment at all) from him. Malone’s recruitment is a big win for opponents of restrictions on athletes, especially the National Letter of Intent. Not only did Malone prove that top recruits can get binding scholarship offers without an NLI attached, he still has the freedom to change his mind anytime before he enrolls at Tennessee. This is yet another advantage to being an early enrollee vs. a regular signee and may push the trend toward more football players graduating high school in December. Josh Malone also provided a blueprint to deregulate football recruiting. Deregulation runs into scale problems with football. Despite the large coaching staff, coming up with a recruiting class of 15–25+ prospects means casting a large net. Combine that with the resources and pressures in major college football and many coaches are worried things will get out of hand. The result is that after a major push for deregulation and review of the recruiting model, football recruiting emerged even more tightly controlled than before. Malone showed the middle way between accepting numerous minor violations as a cost of doing business and the Wild West. When Malone signed with a school, not only did he get a scholarship without limiting himself, most significant recruiting restrictions were also lifted for that institution. Coaches could talk about him publicly and call and text him as much as they wanted. There were no limits on the number of off-campus contacts he had with those coaching staffs and the coaches could ignore dead periods. With one prospect this is manageable for coaches. Expand it to 50 or 100 and it may get out of hand. But if this freedom in recruiting stays tied to signing a scholarship, it is naturally limited to the prospects an institution is willing to sign without getting an NLI commitment in return. Even if only top prospects had this luxury, that would still cover the recruits who generate the most recruiting activity and thus more chances for violations. The NCAA could also put a hard cap on how many recruits each school can contact without limits by changing football’s signing rules. Currently institutions are limited to 25 signees between December 1 and May 31. Starting that limit on August 1 and allowing all prospects, not just midyear enrollees, to sign scholarship agreements on that date would mean each institution would have a group of 25 prospects (give or take) that made the university one of their finalists. Those prospects (and only those prospects) could be recruited without many limits during the final stages of the process. This solves the problem for coaches of unlimited contact with potentially hundreds of prospects. But it also gives the prospect a powerful tool to control his recruitment. Prospects would not have to hope coaches respect their wishes with regards to how much they want to be contacted. If a prospect wants to have unlimited communication with a coach or staff, he can sign with that school (assuming a scholarship is offered). If a prospect decides to drop a school, he can forfeit the scholarship, which cuts the coaching staff back to normal contact limits and frees them up to sign another prospect. The biggest downside would be for prospects in the tiers below the top. They would likely have to wait for written scholarship offers, as many programs will try to stay in with as many of their top targets as long as possible. Once top prospects holding a number of signed scholarship offers start to commit or trim their finalists, more scholarships will open up and start to trickle down. Even this negative has a silver lining, since it would mean a more honest assessment of how secure their offers actually are. If one of the worst things that happens is a coach not offering a scholarship that was subject to being pulled anyway, it is at least worth looking into. It would provide more security to prospects, more flexibility to coaches, and would do so without completely removing limits that make sense in many cases.

The changing media environment for Power 5.

Barber Scotia College Athletic recruiting.

American University Athletic Recruiting.

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