Michigan, Michigan State recruiting classes filling up quickly as pandemic fuels uncertainty with process

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

If it seems like there’s been more than the usual amount of college football commitments these days, don’t worry, it’s not just you’re imagination.

According to a recent breakdown by 247Sports, 627 players in the 2021 class had committed by May 6 — more than twice the number of 2020 prospects who had announced decisions by that date last year.

Oak Park running back Davion Primm was the first verbal commitment in Michigan State's 2021 class, which since has grown to 12 players.

Getting to the specific reason of why the numbers have jumped might be a difficult question to answer, but there’s no doubt, generally, the effects the COVID-19 pandemic have had on recruiting. The NCAA just pushed back the recruiting dead period to June 30, further limiting the opportunity for players to learn about the schools they’d like to attend.

While coaching staffs are doing their best to give recruits a virtual experience, the uncertainty of when an actual visit might come has some deciding to act quicker than they might like.

“You’re really pushing this thing out into August, September before you’re potentially able to visit a school,” said Allen Trieu, who covers Midwest recruiting for 247Sports. “At that point, you're possibly entering your own high school practices or getting ready to start the school year depending on what happens. So I think there's so much uncertainty there that kids felt like they needed to make this decision based on the information they have right now.”

Decisions have been made far quicker for recruits committing to both Michigan and Michigan State.

Through May 7, first-year coach Mel Tucker had landed 11 of 12 verbal commitments, with 10 of those 11 coming during a three-week period at the end of April. By the same date last year, Mark Dantonio and his staff had secured just three commitments in what would become a 22-player class.

At Michigan, Jim Harbaugh had 11 of his 13 commitments by May 7, compared to just three at the same time a year ago.

It’s indicative of an environment where players are jumping at offers, in some cases before they’ve even had a chance to visit the campus.

“A lot of kids like to commit before their senior year starts and really, between now and start of their senior year, they probably won't be able to get much more information about the schools they're considering,” Trieu said. “So at that point, why risk maybe losing your spot in a class to wait around to see if potentially you can take an end of summer visit?

“So I think one thing leads to another as the walls kind of close in on you. The more kids commit, the less spots there are that are open and the more other guys feel like, ‘I gotta hurry this up, because I'm seeing these classes start to fill in.’”

And, as Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz told USA Today, “I think some prospects are getting antsy and just want to get it over with, so they’re kind of casting their ballot.”

With the pandemic forcing adjustments to the usual recruiting practices, namely players not having the ability to take physical visits, some have suggested it might lead to players staying closer to home. An example of that exists at North Carolina, where 11 of the Tar Heels’ 13 commitments are from the state.

However, in more information from the composite rankings at 247Sports, it’s showing that recruits are actually opting more often to commit to programs farther from home. Before March 11, when the NBA suspended play and nearly every major sports league soon followed, more than 60% of committed players to Power Five schools chose teams within 300 miles of their hometowns. Since that date, more than half of the recruits who committed to Power Five schools selected a college more than 300 miles away.

At Michigan, seven of its 13 commitments for 2021 come from the Midwest, including three from Michigan and two each from Ohio and Illinois. At Michigan State, only five of the 12 committed players are from the Midwest, with four from Michigan and one from Ohio.

Seven of 13 verbal commitments in Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh's 2021 recruiting class so far hail from the Midwest.

“There's been a shocking number of kids, more than I would have expected, who have committed to schools pretty far away from home without ever having been to those campuses,” Trieu said. “That's something that I would not have expected, like Michigan State to get a couple of guys from Florida who have never been to East Lansing or Minnesota getting guys from Texas who have never been to campus. That part of what's ibeen a little bit surprising to me.”

What this could all lead to is hard to say. There’s a chance the recruiting dead period could get pushed back even farther and there’s talk of delaying and/or eliminating the early signing period. All of this comes as there’s no consensus on when the season might begin.

“A lot of what we’re doing, this is the first time,” Tucker told USA Today. “The recruiting calendar and rules were not built for COVID-19, stay at home, dead period.”

And with so many players committed with so much up in the air, there’s a chance that at some point the committed players start to wonder if they’ve made the right choice, leading to a larger number of decommitments than usual.

“I think it's a very strong possibility,” Trieu said. “There’s a higher probability also of kids who are committed and end up taking visits. Maybe they still end up at the same school, but I think at some point these guys are going to feel like they missed out on parts of the process. So I think you will have some kids second-guessing themselves and especially when you look at some of the MAC classes that have double-digit commits. I think most schools are going to have to really be leery of the Power Five schools coming in and trying to fill spots with some of their guys. Cincinnati's got a pretty good class right now, and I think there's some Big Ten schools lurking around some of their commits.

“I think everybody's going to have to really recruit their committed guys well into the fall.”

It all adds up to the same conclusion many are coming to in so many different aspects of life around the country these days — nothing is certain. Trieu believes the rash of commitments could taper off at this point, then kick in again in the fall.

But really, that’s just a guess.

“I don't think anybody knows for certain,” Trieu said. “I think we're all kind of bracing for it being a wild fall recruiting wise. But I think it's just as likely that kids will just say, ‘I'm pretty happy with what I've got,’ and maybe they'll just sit tight, too. So, I think anybody who says they know what's gonna happen in the entire country really doesn't know, let alone recruiting.”


Twitter: @mattcharboneau