IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz is concerned that new NCAA recruiting rules will erode the opportunity for competitive balance within the college game.
Rules approved in January by the NCAA Division I Board of Directors allow for earlier and more contact with high school prospects and eliminates a requirement that recruiting coordinators be full-time coaches, essentially allowing the formation of full-time recruiting staffs within programs.
“My fear, in simplistic terms, would be that I would hate to see college football or college athletics become Major League Baseball, with all due respect to Major League Baseball,” Ferentz said. “The Yankees, they start in the inside lane every year. They’ve got the biggest payroll and so they get to start on the inside lane. There are a couple other teams that have that luxury.”
He compares that to the positioning of the small-market, small-budget Pirates, his favorite big-league team since growing up in the Pittsburgh area.
“It seems like maybe we’re trying to force that same type of situation,” he said. “The best pro league going is the National Football League, from my seat, and there is parity in that league. There’s competitive balance, and I think that’s important.”
Ferentz views that as one of the strengths of the Big Ten.
“Everybody lines up in August with a chance to win it,” he said. “History has proven that, going back to 1981. That’s good for fan interest, good for the league.”
The 15th-year Iowa coach is concerned that the somewhat level playing field in college football could be changing because of the multitude of new recruiting rules.
“To me, you want all teams participating to be governed by the same body, so the playing field is level as much as it can be,” Ferentz said.
Ferentz and Big Ten coaches meet today, and an introduction to the new rules is part of the agenda. He expects the meeting to be an eye-opening education that he hopes answers a number of questions.
What is certain is that the recruiting landscape will be different, and many of the changes appear to be advantageous for cash-rich programs.
The Division I Board of Directors, a group of 18 college presidents, approved 25 of the 26 proposals submitted by the rules committee that had earned support of the Division I Legislative Council.
Under the proposals passed, beginning on Aug. 1 there will be no limitations on the number or types of communications recruiters can have with prospects. Beginning with the 2014 recruiting class, coaches can call, text or communicate privately by any available method without restrictions.
In the past, coaches were limited at times to one call per week and prohibited from sending text messages to recruits. Recruiting dead periods have also been eliminated.
Several of the proposals address timing of when coaches can initiate contact with high school players. A proposal that has been tabled until an April meeting of the Board of Directors would allow that contact to begin on July 1 following a recruit’s sophomore year in high school.
If approved, the proposal would allow players in their junior year of high school to receive up to six visits per college at home during contact periods.
The changes come at a time when high school players are making earlier and earlier commitments to college programs. Ferentz said it has become difficult for Iowa to fill the 56 official visits it is allowed during a player’s senior year because more and more players are committing prior to that point.
For example, Iowa had verbal commitments from 16 players in what eventually became a 21-player 2013 recruiting class before the Hawkeyes worked through their first drill of preseason camp last August.
Ferentz suspects that the changes will lead to Iowa offering scholarships to a handful of elite players before they have taken the field as a high school junior, something that has been commonplace in basketball for a number of years, but has not been possible in football.
He said the Iowa program does have for the first time a recruiting board that tracks elite high school sophomores.
“There are some obvious guys, but some guys hit puberty a little sooner than others, those kinds of things,” Ferentz said. “In a perfect world, I’d like to evaluate guys after they’ve played an entire high school career, but that’s not going to happen anymore.”