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How the coronavirus pandemic has changed college football recruiting

Virtual recruiting visits were a necessity last year and should still have a place in 2022 and beyond.
Florida Gators coach Dan Mullen had to do interviews and recruiting virtually last year. Some of those activities will continue into 2022.
Florida Gators coach Dan Mullen had to do interviews and recruiting virtually last year. Some of those activities will continue into 2022. [ MATT BAKER | Times (2020) ]
Published Aug. 12, 2021

Recruiting, like almost everything else, took a digital turn during the pandemic — one that will outlast the signing class of 2021.

When schools shut down because of the coronavirus, teams used virtual visits to give recruits a chance to experience the campus, stadium and other facilities safely from home. Some relied on videos, while others made 360-degree tours that look familiar to anyone who has ever house-hunted on Zillow.

Even though on-campus recruiting resumed last month, virtual visits can still be useful. A prospect in California or Texas can check out Florida or Florida State without spending money on a flight and hotel for an unofficial visit. Or maybe the digital introduction is enticing enough to lead to an in-person trip.

“I think it provides you a great value to be able to showcase your program in a variety of different ways,” Florida State coach Mike Norvell said on signing day. “But there’s still nothing like face to face.”

FSU football coach Mike Norvell used virtual recruiting last year but has enjoyed getting back to in-person activities in 2021.
FSU football coach Mike Norvell used virtual recruiting last year but has enjoyed getting back to in-person activities in 2021. [ NELL REDMOND | AP ]

Indeed, both the Seminoles and Gators stressed how many of their signees visited campus in person before the shutdown. And that leads to the coronavirus’ other potential long-term change to recruiting.

Having no in-person evaluations for a year forced coaches to scout players differently. Though no one wants to ban camps or eliminate trips to high school practices and games, Gators coach Dan Mullen wonders whether assistants still need to be seeing players in person for three months in the fall and a month and a half every spring.

“Is it better for us to be spending all of this money traveling non-stop for three to four months a year around the country?” Mullen asked. “Or do they reallocate that money … to pay to have more kids to see us here on campus and let their whole families experience what the university has? I don’t know. Those are going to be interesting discussions for the future.”

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