In case you’ve been living under a rock the last 36 hours, you may have heard that prized Iowa football recruit, Eno Benjamin, de-committed from the program on Sunday.
I am officially opening up my recruitment!— EB5™ (@eno_benjamin5) October 23, 2016
Thank you & God Bless pic.twitter.com/Q3qILK12ni
The news sent shock waves throughout Hawkeye Nation. Not only was Benjamin a consensus 4-star, top 150 skill player. He was also Iowa’s most valuable recruiter when it came to tapping the Texas pipeline which featured fellow 4-star and likely soon-to-be-former-commit Chevin Calloway. So this one hurt a lot. Apparently, Iowa coaches were displeased that Benjamin took other visits while being committed and wouldn’t let it go. This is a good time to point out that there are two sides to every story and there is plenty of speculation out there about whether Benjamin was actually forthcoming about his visits.
But this story isn't necessarily about Benjamin in particular. In the aftermath, a fierce debate raged over the Hawkeye message boards. This divide was driven by Coach Ferentz’s long-standing policy of not allowing verbal commitments to take visits to other schools. To be sure, there have been times where recruits have been able to skirt this. Just off the top of my head, Drew Ott and Noah Fant both visited Nebraska while committed to the Hawks. The theory seems to be that they were upfront about their visits and were able to get around the rules. But this is a good time to just throw the arguments on the table and see what happens. There hasn’t been that much exciting college news lately anyway, so this week’s Love/Leave will be a bit more focused. Let’s give it a try.
Trust and Honesty are more important than skill: I tend to think this is at the heart of the pro-policy argument. The thought is that if the commit cannot be trusted to uphold his end of the agreement by visiting other schools, how are the coaches supposed to trust him when he is on campus? When you really think about it, this non-binding contract is at its core a test of the commitment’s loyalty. As indicated above with Fant and Ott, the trust can be earned back, but it certainly doesn’t look good when, on paper, the coaches are making a pretty simple request. If you can’t honor that, what is to stop you from when Chris Doyle is barking out “one more rep!” over and over again.
The Policy applies to all commits: Once again, see the Fant and Ott examples above. But an argument I’ve seen thrown around as it applies to Eno is that the coaches need to make exceptions for top recruits as opposed to the 2-star diamonds in the rough we are supposed to thrive on. I’m not sure this is a terribly strong argument. If the coaches begin making exceptions on a larger scale for players that have bigger and better offers, I worry about messing with the players’ trust in the coaches. This is more than hurt feelings. It’s seeing that another player is being treated differently. That can splinter a team quickly.
Players should not commit until they’re ready: I’d put the caveat here that this is a lot to ask of 17 year olds, but I’ll get to that later. This idea puts the burden back on the player to fully vet their options and gives the coaches an out when dealing with a player that may be causing too much drama. I get it. Coaches do not want to spend the time or resources re-recruiting a commit, especially when the season is ongoing. The coaches have their own problems to deal with, as opposed to managing what their supposed-to-be-commitments are or are not doing.
Don’t get burned on signing day: This is the Karan Higdon situation. If you’re looking for any, and I mean any, silver lining from what happened with Eno, at least the coaches can spend time recruiting guys that will sign with the Hawks and not flip on signing day, a la Higdon.
Recruiting is different now than 15 years ago: I would call this the “Twitter phenomenon.” We all know about Ferentz’s no social media policy (which I tend to be ok with due to the vast amount of asshats out there), but many recruits, especially the stars, live and breathe social media. Ferentz’s policy of no visits made a bit more sense when recruits were not constantly getting pressured from friends, fans, family, and followers about what school’s colors that recruit would look good in. This also goes with the fact that you can’t hide recruits anymore. Recruiting services, skill camps, and of course, social media, brings the players to the coaches in ways that were not imaginable in the early 2000s and before.
This goes along with the thought that the kids themselves are different nowadays. I don’t think there is anything wrong with how kids interact on twitter or other social media. This is the world we live in now. Some coaches have adapted accordingly and changed their recruiting styles to effectively use social media. I am starting to fear that Iowa’s coaches may be slipping behind in keeping up with the changing technology available to recruits.
Kids should be allowed to be kids without risking their scholarship spot: Think back to when you were 17 years old. Now imagine that you were a star recruit who had hundreds of twitter followers and more recruiting mail than you knew what to do with. Now imagine that you are offered the opportunity to take five free vacations to some of the most awesome college locations in the country, and watch some games from elite seats in a rocking stadium. I tend to think that I would want to experience all that and more. Now of course, the counter-argument is that you should wait until you’re sure to commit.
But remember, in Iowa’s case, their recruits don’t take their “official” visit (the free one) until their senior year. If they have a scholarship offer on the table during their junior year and they start to see the class filling up, shouldn’t they be allowed to grab a spot from their favorite school, even if they haven’t officially visited? And shouldn’t it be allowed and encouraged that the recruit should explore all of his options without worry that his scholarship will be stripped from him for exercising his opportunity to take those free vacations?
Iowa still hosts official visits from committed prospects: You know that Desmond King guy? Yeah he was a double de-commitment and flipped to the Hawks a week before signing day. How about Texas WR Beau Corrales, who is supposed to join the Hawkeyes in 2017? Well he was committed to Texas State before his official visit to Iowa. This is probably the reason I lean ever-so-slightly towards the anti-policy crowd. I feel like if the coaches are going to forbid their commits from visiting elsewhere, why are they not holding themselves to the same standard? This concept seems awfully hypocritical to me and I’m not sure there’s a great counterargument to it. Why should schools not be allowed to host their recruits if they’re hosting other schools’ recruits. Something seems off in that logic.
Anyway, this is a topic that has no right or wrong answer. But my final thought is that I think the policy is good in principle but the consequences very well may lead to more situations like Benjamin’s and I’m not sure the Hawkeyes are in a position to withstand those if they want to be successful. The times are changing with recruits and with college sports in general. I think the last few bowl outings for the Hawkeyes indicate that athleticism and skill is beating size and development. The days of the Hawkeyes thriving on converted walk-ons may be coming to an end when you see the speed and skill of some of the other schools. This is tied directly to recruiting and Iowa must find a way to keep up, or it will get left behind.
Feel free to tell me why I’m wrong in the comments below!