Mike Riley is quite sure change is coming to college football recruiting. Maybe soon. Maybe as soon as next year.
Nebraska’s head coach just wants to do his part in making sure that the ripple effects of any changes are understood before major decisions are finalized.
Like an early signing day. If you’re going to allow such a thing in mid-December, something FBS commissioners will be revisiting again in 2016 after seriously considering it this summer, in Riley’s view, you better couple that with another change.
“If you have an earlier signing day, you better have an earlier visiting period, right?” he said Friday at Big Ten Media Days. “So that’s been I hope my biggest contribution, is making sure people don’t get caught up and lost in the unintended consequences of a new rule, (where) all of this other stuff is happening, and, ‘Wow, we didn’t know this was going to happen.’”
As one of 19 coaches on the American Football Coaches Association Board of Trustees, Riley has voiced his opinion that he's against an early signing date rule that includes no other parts. (Frank Solich and Craig Bohl are also on that board.)
“Because that early signing date will become the signing date and all the visits will take place during the season," Riley said.
To Riley, that doesn’t seem good for recruits. It doesn’t seem good for coaches. It doesn’t seem good for current college players. Yeah, we seem to forget about them the most in these discussions.
“One of the things that is one of the hardest parts about our job right now in college football is we almost spend more time with our next team than we do with the team we have right now, because of recruiting,” he said. “That an issue that we have to balance and deal with all the time.”
A mid-December early signing day would mean a coaching staff such as Nebraska’s, which hopes to be getting ready for a Big Ten Championship Game the first week of December most years, would rarely have a week available to host official visitors with no game taking place.
While more and more recruits are committing as high school juniors, and occasionally even as sophomores, the rule still states that they can’t take official visits (in which the trip is paid for by the school) until the start of their senior year.
One ESPN.com story a few years back quoted the father of highly touted cornerback recruit Maurice Smith Jr., who ultimately ended up at Alabama, as saying the family had spent $14,500 in unofficial visits to give its son a good look at his choices.
That example connects well to a point Riley stressed in Chicago.
“There’s something that's not fair about this,” the coach said. “The kids that get to come can financially afford it. The kids that get left out are the kids that can’t afford it, and that’s too bad. So you have to keep recruiting those kids and hope that you can pay for their trip and hope they don’t already commit someplace they’re closer to … so that’s an issue.”
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Still, Riley is optimistic about changes that might be on the horizon.
Ideally, one of those changes will be allowing earlier official visits. It would be helpful to a school such as Nebraska, of course, since there isn’t an overflow of talent that can get here without air travel. But most importantly, it would also seem to benefit the kids.
“I think there’s a big examination of all that stuff going on. Lots of facts to it,” Riley said. “I think we’ll come to a better world that way eventually. We’ve been with this recruiting calendar for a long time. I think it’s good. But I think now in a lot of ways it’s antiquated.”
Riley also can see the humor that every coach’s opinion on recruiting is generally self-serving. For instance, coaches in heavy populated areas don’t like satellite camps. If you’re at USC, for example, you can get a good look at kids without such camps. Why would you favor peers coming into your backyard?
If you’re at, say, Nebraska or Oregon State, you’re all for them.
“It’s where you live and what you need, right?” Riley said.
As for where Riley and staff are at with this 2016 recruiting class — their first full cycle at Nebraska — he’s pleased with the pace they’re keeping. The class currently has 14 known commitments as fall camp arrives.
“We’ve actually, I think, done real well. We’re probably right where I’d like to be: 3/4 of our way through ... with enough room left over to really look at what we need hard during the season.”
He said his staff is still learning about recruiting here, having used that two-month sprint to the 2015 signing day to gain some information that could be used to chart their plans going forward.
After spring ball, Riley also asked each current player in one-on-one interviews why they came to Nebraska.
The most common answer: One they got on campus, they just knew. Once players saw the facilities and academic support programs, and once some out-of-staters realized Lincoln wasn’t just a stadium next to a cornfield, they were all-in.
“I think Nebraska’s easy to recruit to. The problem is that recruiting has changed. …” Riley said. “The calendar has changed such where it’s become more difficult to get the kids on campus before they go somewhere else, visit, and decide to go there.”
Changes, at this point, appear a certainty. Riley and his coaches can just hope they're the right kind of changes.