The NCAA made some big waves this week with the approval of some new recruiting rules that will improve access for high school prospects to the programs recruiting them and for the schools themselves.
Among the new rules is the addition of earlier official visit periods, a 10th assistant coach and, most impactfully, the early signing period for college football.
In addition to the traditional February signing period, teams will also be able to sign players in December with a second signing period. Northwestern athletics director Jim Phillips helped chair the committee that are proposing these rules.
The early signing period — a 72-hour period in December where high school recruits can sign their letters of intent — was one that has been particularly discussed for several years in college football. With the rampant flipping of recruits, coaches clearly wanted the ability to lock in recruits who were ready to sign so they can focus on other recruits instead of fending off their neighbors. Recruits also wanted this clearly so they can end the hectic recruiting cycle.
It feels like an inevitable change and a win-win.
For a school and program like Northwestern, the early signing period seems like it will be particularly beneficial. The fact is Pat Fitzgerald and his coaches tend to get a lot of their recruiting done early.
This spring has seen Northwestern clean up on the recruiting trail. The Wildcats already have 13 commitments with 11 coming in March and April. That includes four-star defensive end Devin O’Rourke and Louisiana safety Jeremiah McDonald.
The Wildcats’ recruiting class ranks in the top 10 at this early stage. This is more than just a normal spring for Northwestern. The team is bringing in more talented players every spring it seems.
Because Northwestern is just Northwestern, the team has to target its recruiting a lot more. Pat Fitzgerald tends to move quickly on his bigger targets. He, as he likes to say, does not like to play the hat game.
But as Northwestern targets bigger recruits, they are inevitably going to be stuck in that game. In recent years, the Wildcats have faced de-commitments more frequently in recent years. That should only increase as they go after players more teams want.
But a key for the Wildcats has been getting recruits who truly want to be at Northwestern. And that means they would greatly benefit from this early signing period.
As Fitzgerald told Louis Vaccher of Wildcat Report on signing day, most of his recruits from last year would have signed in December if they could. That is the kind of devotion Northwestern’s recruits seem to have for the program. The Wildcats seemingly spend their season working on the next year’s recruiting class rather than this year’s class.
But the new recruiting rules could have another benefit for Northwestern. It may open up a new window for players to visit Northwestern.
The addition of earlier periods for official visits could be a big boon for the Wildcats, as Fitzgerald told Vaccher:
“If you’re a family of means financially, you can get around and do unofficial visits to different schools outside of (driving distance),” Fitzgerald said on signing day. “For young men from families that don’t have the means, they might not get a chance to go see a Northwestern if they’re in Texas or Georgia or Florida, or outside of the Midwest footprint…I think that’s going to give a whole other group of young men an opportunity to get around our players, which is going to be a huge, huge opportunity for us to sign even more young people.”
This rule change specifically was something the Big Ten fought for and it certainly benefits them as the conference expands its footprint.
You do not need to look farther than this chart released by the NCAA to see why it is big for the conference to spread its wings nationally.
States w/ highest % of HS football players recruited by a DI school:
4-8. (DC), MD, TN, SC, NC pic.twitter.com/N6wNkEQT57
— NCAA Research (@NCAAResearch) April 18, 2017
For Northwestern that is even more important since the school has a national recruiting footprint — reaching often into Texas especially as well as New Jersey, Florida and Louisiana. The Wildcats have improved their play on the field consistently, they have the new facility to show off on campus and academics to sell. The Wildcats have never been on a bigger stage for its program.
These changes should help give Northwestern even more advantages. The coaching staff will be able to showcase their program to new recruits. And judging by their success targeting specific recruits and getting early commitments, this could lead to Northwestern entering a new era of recruiting success.