Brentwood Academy coach Cody White isn’t ready to say high school football is permanently changed.
But the NCAA’s adoption of a widely accepted one-time transfer rule — which allows collegiate athletes to transfer one time without penalty and gain immediate eligibility at another school — has spawned more new names than ever in the NCAA transfer portal.
And as some college coaches prioritize scanning the portal over recruiting high schools, their allotted scholarships have become chess pieces, leaving mid-tier high school prospects with fewer options and a more complicated recruiting process.
“It’s definitely been interesting,” White said.
Recent changes beckon new questions as in-person recruiting and evaluation return this month: How does the average high school football recruit approach their changed world and how will their high school coaches advise them?
“I would say yes, (recruiting) has changed permanently,” Hillsboro coach Anthony Brown said.
What’s in an offer?
White doesn't have access to view the transfer portal but knows college coaches who do, and the database is swollen as ever.
He doesn’t even blame college coaches for picking transfers over high school seniors.
“The portal is a quick fix,” White said. “You get a developed guy who’s played and he’s older. And if you need to win now? Shoot, you can get an experienced guy and not get your butt fired.”
But high school players who aren’t elite four- or five-star prospects are seeing fewer legitimate scholarship offers because of the college transfers taking place above them.
“It was really a detriment to our (2021) seniors if you didn’t have those ‘committable’ offers, offers you can’t just commit to, offers where you can’t say (for sure) that you have a scholarship,” Brown said. “It’ll be interesting to see where we go from here. I think our ‘22 class will get kind of back to normal, but I don’t think it’ll ever be the same as it once was.”
Brown was referring to 2021 seniors who had trouble finding a roster spot due to eligibility extensions the NCAA allowed numerous collegiate athletes who had their careers paused by the pandemic. Few people disagreed with the NCAA’s decision to grant athletes that reprieve.
“Uncommittable offers” are a touchier subject. College coaches extend them to communicate interest in a high school recruit, but they don’t guarantee a scholarship or even a roster spot. They mainly serve as a backup plan, sustaining athletes’ interest in case a roster spot opens.
“This is what I tell my kids: If you were to commit today, would you have a scholarship? If the answer is no, then really it’s just a promise, and a promise can be broken at any time,” said Brown, who played at Tennessee State in college. “I think our kids get so caught up in getting all these offers they don’t even know if they could go to this school or not. I tell them to get everything up front. Don’t ever assume anything in this recruiting game. It can be cutthroat at times.”
White calls uncommittable offers meaningless.
“Some of these people are throwing out 600-700 ‘offers’ and the kids get confused and put it on social media. It’s not an offer. It's a misuse of the term. I appreciate the colleges who don’t do that,” White said.
Long ago, a high school player decommitting from a school was dramatic news. Now with more college roster instability White is OK with a player seizing a committable offer and decommitting later, because he’s seen legit scholarship offers given out and then taken away.
“And I would have never said that before,” White said. “If they wait and do it the old-fashioned way and do an official visit in January, a lot of those offers don’t happen anymore. I used to tell them if you commit, make it mean something. Now, I still want it to mean something, but I also want them to keep looking if people will keep recruiting them, because colleges will do the same.”
‘A lot of misinformation’
If it sounds difficult to understand who is interested in who, and how to know which options are truly viable for recruits holding uncommittable offers, that’s because it is.
The Division I football dream still burns brightly in a majority of high school prospects. It’s important they have realistic expectations, Brown believes.
“I tell (players) to go where you’re being celebrated, not tolerated,” he said. “Kids have an idea where they think they should go, or who they think should recruit them, but if those schools aren’t recruiting them and you have an FCS school who wants you, you have to understand where your bread is buttered. There’s a lot of misinformation out there that parents are not fully understanding.”
One gray area surrounds evaluation camps on college campuses, where scholarship offers are ultimately handed out. Many are ongoing right now during the evaluation period. White’s advice to recruits with Division I dreams but no committable offers: Save time, money and mental energy by attending one university camp conducted at your dream school, and attend a handful of other camps at schools exhibiting serious interest.
High school coaches in many cases are the best advisors.
“I tell our parents, we’ve been doing this a long time. We don’t have any control over where they go, but I can give them an evaluation about what colleges are saying,” White said. “They choose to listen or not. But parents are parents, a lot of them think their kids are a lot better than what they are, but the reality is … We usually have 150 schools who come through here, so we have a great idea of what they think of the kids.
“For us, the camps are really important this summer because they haven’t been able to have them (recently). We’re having kids camp more than we ever have. In that, we try to advise them that, look, if you’re at an FCS and they want to pay for your school, that’s a good thing. But there’s no reason to go to a camp at LSU, Florida and Alabama in three weeks if you’re not being recruited by them.”
High school recruiting is still a vital talking point since education and ultimately careers — mostly in the professional world, but some in football — are what’s at stake. Newly hired McGavock coach Frederick Brunette said he addressed recruiting during his first team meeting, reminding players to be prepared to play behind someone initially wherever they go.
Springfield coach Dustin Wilson has tried to tamp down the Division I frenzy that players can fall into.
“From our perspective, we’ve changed our verbiage,” Wilson said. “We use the word ‘college.’ If it’s Division I or Division III, it’s money for your school and you get to play ball. We don’t say ‘D1’ around here a whole lot.”