Pac-12 coaches adjusting to recruiting challenges during COVID-19 pandemic

Coaches unable to show off campuses due to no face-to-face meetings

UCLA Bruins head coach Chip Kelly looks on prior to the start of a NCAA football game between the UCLA Bruins and the Colorado Buffaloes at Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. on Saturday November 2, 2019. UCLA Bruins defeated the Colorado Buffaloes 31-14. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr, Contributing Photographer)

During the past two months, Zoom meetings, working remotely and all sorts of virtual interaction has become normal.

The college football world has been quick to adapt, particularly when it comes to recruiting.

“I think we’ve all had to adjust as coaches,” Arizona State’s Herm Edwards said this week.

College football coaches across the country often talk about recruiting being an ongoing, every day process. That hasn’t stopped during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the fact that campuses are closed and coaches aren’t crisscrossing the country to visit high school players.

“We’ve just had to pivot,” UCLA head coach Chip Kelly said. “We’ve all had to use the technologies available to us to continue to stay in front of these kids and go through the whole process.”

The greatest challenge for coaches and recruits has been the inability to meet face to face. Coaches have been unable to show off their campus and facilities, and recruits have been unable to take visits to physically see where they might spend the next four or five years of their lives.

“Not having people on campus and actually seeing your place is difficult for every coach,” Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal said. “Facilities are great and videos are fine, but to be able to sit with people face to face and get to know those people and take a deep dive into one another and build relationships, there’s nothing like that. It’s a challenge, but it’s a challenge for everybody.”

Coaches have done their best to provide recruits with virtual campus tours. Colorado has given virtual tours to several recruits in recent weeks, and the Buffaloes aren’t alone.

Washington head coach Jimmy Lake said the Huskies’ creative and graphics staff have posted plenty of content through social media “to show potential prospects what it would be like to come to the University of Washington and give them at least a glimpse of what it’s like to come out of the tunnel through the purple smoke into Husky Stadium and also what it would be like to be a student-athlete on campus.”

It’s not the same as doing the tour in person, of course, but Edwards said recruits are actually enjoying it.

“All these kids want to go on virtual tours,” Edwards said. “That’s what they want now. The parents are involved in it and you take them through and the coaches are on the screen.”

Currently, there is no timetable for campuses being open or football being played. There might be a college football season, but there might not. For many recruits, the virtual tour might be the only chance they get to see a campus before signing day in December.

The uncertainty of the 2020 season isn’t limited to college football. It’s possible that some states won’t have high school football if restrictions aren’t lifted. That’s impacting recruiting, as well.

“There are high school players that are worried about being able to play their senior year and what the fall is going to look like,” Oregon State head coach Jonathan Smith said.

With the possibility of not having senior season highlights and video to use in recruiting, some prep players are jumping on early scholarship offers while they have them.

Since the COVID-19 shutdown, 37 players have given verbal commitments to Pac-12 schools, including eight to USC and four each to ASU and Washington.

CU has had one player commit recently: Allan Baugh, a defensive end from St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.) High School. Baugh has yet to see the CU campus in person.

“Kids now are committing a little early because they might not have senior film if there’s not football,” Edwards said. “If they can’t make visits, (they’re saying), ‘I want something in my hand saying; I’m committing.’ If it opens up, all of a sudden you’re back into recruiting mode and I want to go take some visits. That’s where we’re all at right now, to be quite honest.”

For the players and coaches, the recruiting process has changed, but it hasn’t slowed down.

“It’s a test that we’re all going under,” Cristobal said, “but we accept the challenge.”