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When college football coaches use negative recruiting and why

Coaches talk to SB Nation about the practice. Would an early signing period help?

Godfrey: Negative recruiting is the art of trying to sway a college prospect away from a rival school, rather than only talking up the virtues of your own school. When coaches at one school decide to target another, just about anything can enter the conversation.

"I've had kids tell me coaches sent them negative rankings about their future degree program at our school, driving distance to the school, the ratio of female-to-male on campus," an SEC assistant said. "Basically they'll go through studies and brochures and message boards for months and send this info to the kid. If they believe any of that crap will create enough doubt to get him to sway on his commitment, they'll keep sending it."

Negative recruiting is a) nothing new and b) never going away, but the habit of campaigning to players who are firmly committed for months on end seems to be increasing. Or maybe it's just being discussed more often. This is one of the worst forms of recruitment -- if you take a prospect at his word that they're 100 percent committed to a school and their decision making process has concluded, it's basically harassment.

So Bud, with another recruiting cycle wrapped up, you asked me to contact college coaches and ask if there were any trends in negative recruiting. The most common response was that negative recruiting is most effective and most commonly used on recruits who commit to a school early in a cycle.

Bud: It makes sense. A commitment means every school that's recruiting that player knows which school to go after.

Texas head coach Charlie Strong talked about this after having some eventual Texas signees delay commitments, saying, "Usually when you make a commitment, then they know who to attack because of the season we had. I didn't want them to come off and attack us."

Godfrey: Let's break down exactly why this is so popular and -- at least sometimes -- effective. I talked to head coaches and assistants, and it was surprising to see how similar their responses were.

  1. "If a top kid locks in on a school early, maybe even up to five years ago, that meant most other coaches would pull back if they believed it was a solid commitment. That doesn't happen anymore," a Big Ten assistant said.
  2. "What I've heard from kids we land early is that our rivals spend a full year attacking us. They don't have to sell themselves. They just have to attack us," an SEC assistant said. "You aren't selling your school, you're just creating doubt about another. So, now any game we lose, any other kid at the same position we offer (or an outlet says we offer), all that is sent back to the recruit. 'What do you think about this? See, they're a bad fit for you.'"
  3. "What's most interesting to me is, with this method, these other coaches aren't focused on offering anything positive," a head coach said. "The primary focus isn't on their school. It's why your program is bad."
  4. "It's definitely harder [to recruit] when you're one of 15 or 20 [contenders for a player]," an AAC assistant said. "Some coaches feel like a recruit is never really seriously interested in that many schools, that they're just celebrating the attention, but you usually think, 'okay, he's got five or six he's gonna look at.' If you know it's you and these three schools, great. If you know he's locked into one school, well now, everything in your pitch is built around how you stack up to that one school. Where are you better? What can you offer they can't?"
  5. "What happens is, and maybe this is a positive from this, you end up having a stronger relationship," the head coach said. "You field so much of this stuff, where the parents are calling you, asking if a rumor is true, that you tend to spend more time just getting to know them."

Any of this surprise you, Bud?

Bud: No. Coaches all deny it on the record, but everyone does it, because it works. Much of it is really more comparative recruiting than negative recruiting.

Godfrey: One thing that strikes me is how we perceive recruits who wait until Signing Day. There's been such a backlash to hat ceremonies in recent years. These kids are called attention whores, and even the chosen fan base might complain that the player should've have committed months ago. I guess it turns out the reward for early loyalty is a lot of crap in your inbox.

Bud: This is partly true, but most of the time, if a kid doesn't respond to other staffs, it will stop. Kids or parents are leaving the door open to being continually recruited, which is smart because you never know what is going to happen with coaching changes or other circumstances. It's helpful to think of a verbal commitment as a reservation for a scholarship.

Godfrey: Is there a solution? A lot of coaches want to see some kind of early signing period. The feeling is that if a recruit is locked in and wants to be at School X, he should be able to sign in the fall, with some kind of escape clause in place if the head coach leaves.

Bud: I am all for an early signing period. The key is the outs. Obviously, a kid should be free to breach the agreement if the head coach leaves. But what about his coordinator, position coach or area recruiter? I say make it flexible. The kid and school agree that it can be voided if any of the four coaches named in the agreement leave.

Godfrey: In the short-term, if you're a sought-after recruit who publicly commits before Signing Day, get ready. Or maybe just turn your phone off?

Bud: I think it's all about direct communication. Let schools know you are locked in unless something happens with the staff. Most schools will respect that.

Godfrey: Just to play devil's advocate, my informed assumption is that if you sign early with a school whose coach is on the hot seat this might not stop the harassment of other coaches contacting you. They know there's a chance you'll be back on the market. Maybe a (severe) penalty is put in place for coaches who contact recruits who have signed early NLIs?

Bud: I don't think you'd need to penalize it because you can't influence the kid to decommit once he's signed early. Either the staff he's signed with gets fired or they don't. And I don't think a lot of kids would sign early to schools with hot seat coaches.

Godfrey: Maybe it's just a tendency built from journalism, but one surefire way to lessen negative recruiting on solid commitments is to go public with the schools and coaches who are badgering players. Chances are that won't happen, but if a player were to publicly state that he's happy with School X and yet Schools A, B and C won't leave him alone, a good old fashion public shaming might get them to stop.

Bud: I'll go back to what I said earlier: most staffs are not badgering kids who tell them they do not want to continue to be recruited. The kids who are being really badgered are typically not expressing themselves well to other coaches that they are solid, or they have a parent or coach sending a mixed signal.