Let's talk recruiting. National Signing Day is around the corner, meaning the next batch of Texas Longhorns football players will be finalized and ready to suit up next fall. If you're not a follower of recruiting, here's your five-minute catch up.
Let's start with the basics. What is National Signing Day?
For football, National Signing Day is the start of the "regular signing period" as mandated by the NCAA. It is the first day that high school seniors can sign their Letter of Intent, or LOI. Historically, that date is the first Wednesday in February. This year, that date is Wednesday, February 6.
Gotcha. What does a National Letter of Intent Do?
The LOI binds a prospect to the school he signs a letter with for a period of one year. The school commits a financial obligation for one year, and other schools are no longer allowed to recruit that prospect. In return, the prospect cannot sign an LOI or play for any other school for the next year.
OK, then. How many of these things can teams dole out?
Teams are limited to signing 25 players in a calendar year, and can have no more than 85 scholarship players overall. Going into spring ball, the Longhorns have 71 players on scholarship for 2013, meaning they have just 14 available scholarships.
But I've heard that Texas currently has 15 commitments and are still recruiting a couple more players. How does that work?
The 85-man rule is enforced starting in the fall. Essentially, Texas expects attrition, or players leaving the program, to get at or near the 85 marker. Oh, by the way, the 25 player rule can be circumvented as well. High school players or junior college players that graduate early (in December) can enroll in the spring and count towards the prior year's class. Also, note that spring-enrollee JUCOs can sign LOIs in December, but high school early entrants will still wait until February. Schools can also offer a greyshirt, whereby the player promises not to enroll until the following spring, counting towards the next year's class.
Attrition...circumvention...greyshirting...it all sounds shady. Wait, I've heard Nick Saban does very bad things when it comes to "oversigning." And is that second part why Texas A&M has something like 53 prospects committed?
There's more than 50 shades of grey when it comes to recruiting, and there are certainly people fed up with the process. On Saban, he was essentially the poster child for the website Oversigning.com, which is why his name gets linked. He's certainly not the only perpetrator. As for Texas A&M, see Wescott Eberts' fantastic write-up.
If schools can "play the game," can't recruits do it too?
Of course. You see prospects "verbally committed" to schools, yet still take visits to rival programs. A verbal commitment is completely non-binding for both the prospect and the school. Essentially, National Signing Day is the finale of the recruiting process. A prospect isn't truly "committed" until he signs that LOI. For high school players, recruiting is a self-marketing game. Visits, commitments, and school contact are their ways of generating interest with major coaches and programs. And then there are the recruiting portals that prop the whole system up with their rankings and star ratings.
Sites like Rivals, Scout, 247 and ESPN will rank prospects. A five-star (5*) prospect is considered one of the top 25-30 prospects in the nation. Essentially, the recruiting site believes this player will develop into a collegiate star and eventual NFL first round draft pick. A four-star (4*) prospect is considered a tier below but still among the 250 or so best prospects in the nation. Three-star (3*) and two-star (2*) prospects make up the remainder. Services have different analysts (and consequently, different opinions), but 247 has done a good job aggregating rankings via the 247 Composite.
OK, let's take it back to Texas. I remember historically that Texas hasn't had many issues when it comes to signing players. Why is that?
In five sentences or less? In the 2000s, Mack Brown built a recruiting powerhouse. He found good players that wanted to play for Texas. He promised them a shenanigan-free recruitment if they committed early. In return, the prospect promised not to waver on his verbal commitment. The whole thing made for a relatively unexciting National Signing Day for Longhorns fans.
I take it recent years have been more interesting?
The rise of area programs such as Oklahoma St., Baylor, and TCU has made recruiting in the state of Texas more competitive. Other blue chip programs like Alabama, USC, and Ohio St. have also taken more of an interest in Lone Star State prospects. Meanwhile, the Longhorns' on-field product has slipped from national prominence. Consequently, the program has been forced to take more risks by playing "recruiting games" with Texas kids. That said, the revamped staff has also been more diligent with their analysis, going after national recruits as well as in-state late risers. These prospects tend to make later decisions and are more willing to flip commmitments. It all adds up to a more interesting recruiting landscape.
What are the major storylines for Texas going into Signing Day?
I thought you'd never ask. There will be a recruiting primer for offense and defense coming soon. Patience, young grasshopper.