Masks are outnumbering weight belts in weight rooms. Strength and conditioning staffs are considering COVID-19 tests and disinfecting more than strength and speed development. In some places, when football games are played, empty seats will outnumber occupied ones.
Very little about the college football ecosystem is as it normally is, as football teams try to prepare for a season during a global pandemic. The most notable exception: recruiting. Alabama football has added three high-quality prospects in the last month and UA baseball has done more than that, all of those prospects doing so despite months between the last time they were in the same room as a college coach.
How much longer will that exception last?
For now, there remains optimism. Optimism that college football games can happen in the fall, giving recruits games to visit; optimism that high school football games can happen in the fall, giving college coaches methods of recruiting other than phone calls, Zoom calls and graphics for prospects to post on Instagram.
However, as COVID-19 cases become more common, locally and nationally, normalcy becomes threatened. Basketball and baseball have already been dealt devastating blows: the summer is the primary in-person evaluation period for those sports, and the NCAA’s virus-related recruiting dead period now extends through August.
If the period extends far beyond the end of August, football recruiting is bound to be impacted.
The power of the official visit has been proven through time in football recruiting — Monday commitments after weekend official visits happen regularly — and they’re useful for more than just securing a previously uncommitted prospect. Walking the halls of your facility is a good way to remind a shaky commit of what made him commit in the first place, or show a prospect committed elsewhere that the grass may in fact be greener elsewhere.
Virtual tours of campus and athletic facilities are already happening — Southern Academy offensive lineman Eli Richey committed to Georgia Tech after receiving one — but it’s fair to wonder if they will have the same impact as an in-person visit.
What if prospects are not comfortable having coaching staffs in their homes in December, January and February? If the closers of the staffs can’t seal the deal in a living room, there are potential flips that won’t happen, and every fan base has a few examples of flips that proved valuable. Reuben Foster comes to mind for UA; Bryce Young, Jase McClellan and Javion Cohen could become more recent examples in the freshman class.
Although the means have changed, the results of recruiting have not changed during the pandemic. If it continues much longer, recruiting will no longer be immune to its influence.
Brett Hudson is the Alabama beat writer for The Tuscaloosa News/USA Today Network. Reach Brett at 205-722-0196 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson