New official visit rule has Notre Dame thinking of more changes

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

CJ Holmes will make the first official visit of the 2017 recruiting cycle for the Notre Dame football program.

The running back commit will make the trip from Connecticut this weekend with his father, mother and sister. Because of new recruiting rules, it will be the first time Notre Dame can pay for the travel expenses of his parents.

Before this year, the NCAA only allowed FBS programs to cover the travel costs of the recruit. With Notre Dame’s national recruiting base and tradition of success on the field and in the classroom, the Irish coaching staff expects the rule change to have a positive impact on their recruiting efforts.

Running backs coach Autry Denson, who is tasked with recruiting players in Florida and other states in the backyard of the SEC, said the move could widen the recruiting options for the Irish.

“Thank God they passed the new rule where we can actually pay for parents to come on official visits,” Denson said. “Now that makes it a lot easier for us because now I can get the parents here.

“While everybody is intrigued by Notre Dame, it’s not around the corner. That was an obstacle to getting them to campus. Maybe guys don’t have the means. Now that barrier has been eliminated for us.

“Now it’s just a matter of identifying the right guys and then from a logistics standpoint organizing it so we can get them and their parents to campus. We have a shot at everybody.”

The only problem is that official visits have continued to lose importance as recruiting cycles have been sped up nationally. More and more kids are settling on commitments well before their senior years. At the start of September, only 88 of ESPN’s top 300 players in the 2017 class remained uncommitted.

In football, the NCAA won’t let recruits take official visits until they attend their first day of school as a senior. A recruit is less likely to use all of his official visits (five allotted by the NCAA) if he’s already made a commitment.

The shift in the recruiting cycle has put more of a financial burden on the families to pay for unofficial visits. While it can be seen as an investment in a recruit’s future, the NCAA could help those families by allowing official visits to occur earlier in the recruiting process like it has in men’s and women’s basketball.

Men’s basketball recruits can make an official visit as early as January 1 of their junior year. Women’s basketball recruits must wait until the Thursday after the sport’s national championship game (early April in 2016) during their junior year.

To mirror the national trend, Notre Dame’s football program increased its emphasis on getting recruits on campus for unofficial visits. At least 80 recruits who reported Notre Dame offers in the 2017 class have already made unofficial visits to South Bend. That’s a lot of travel paid for by recruits, their families or sometimes their coaches.

“It is a sacrifice. Thankfully for us, we have gotten a considerable amount of guys here that the parents see it that way,” Denson said. “It’s an investment in their future. They see it that way, by the grace of God they find a way to get them here and it hasn’t been a major stumbling block.”

Notre Dame recruiting coordinator Mike Elston is a proponent of the NCAA speeding up the recruiting calendar. Earlier contact, earlier official visits and an early signing period are all on his wish list.

“One of the most compromising positions we’re in is in spring recruiting when they say you can go into the school and do an evaluation,” Elston said. “You can’t talk to the kid. You can’t see the kid. You can’t spend time with the kid. You can’t spend time with the parents. By July the kids have made their decision. Theoretically, unless they come on your campus you haven’t met with them, haven’t met the parents. It’s really a very challenging situation.”

With no immediate changes on the horizon and the NCAA’s reputation of moving glacially slow on recruiting regulations, the Irish will continue to find ways to maximize their recruiting potential under the current system.

The tweak in paying for parents on official visits is a start. Notre Dame can voice its thoughts on more adjustments, but it will take a lot of help across the college football landscape to make them happen.

“It’s going to take a huge deal,” Elston said. “That has to come from probably the presidents. I’m not even sure. That’s so much above my pay grade.”

Sparking a charge for more changes in the recruiting calendar will be harder than landing a five-star recruit.

tjames@ndinsider.com | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Notre Dame running back commit CJ Holmes participates in the Irish Invasion at Notre Dame Stadium in June. (Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA)

The following recruits are expected to visit Notre Dame for Saturday’s game against Nevada.

2017 commits

RB CJ Holmes (official visit)

LB Pete Werner

2017 targets

DT Jerron Cage

2017 prospects

OL Sam Garvin

OL Colin Grunhard

OL Cole Johnson

P Andrew Mevis

DE Esezi Otomewo

2018 commits

LB Bo Bauer

RB Markese Stepp

2018 targets

OL Jackson Carman

2018 prospects

DE Parker Devine

OL Finn Dirstine

DB Jordan Jusevitch

CB Donald Johnson

DT Lawrence Johnson

DE Madison Norris

DE Ramon Stallings

TE Anthony Torres

CB EJ Williams

2019 target

DT Jacob Lacey

2019 prospects

DB Art Herndon III            

RB Michael Love