Notre Dame making adjustments to new recruiting calendar

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

The introduction of a new NCAA recruiting calendar for college football has forced Brian Polian to do quite of bit of research and a little bit of guesswork.

As Notre Dame's recruiting coordinator, Polian had to study up on the new rules and figure out how they might impact the Irish. Notre Dame successfully navigated the first early-signing period by adding 21 recruits in December before adding six more on the traditional signing date in February.

Now the Irish are preparing for the next significant change: spring official visits. Starting April 1, football programs can host juniors for recruiting trips paid for by the schools. Previously, official visits were reserved for high school seniors.

A seemingly small shift in the calendar has presented the Irish coaching staff with a number of questions.

"We're in uncharted territory here," Polian said. "So the first thing that we did was call some peers that we trust and where we have relationships and just try to gauge what people are thinking."

"The other thing too was to talk about what the high-academic schools are doing. How are we going to bring a guy on an official visit who hasn't completed the sixth semester of high school? That transcript's very impactful for us."

Those prospects might not have a test score (ACT or SAT) registered either. Prior to 2016, all official visitors were required to have a test score on file. That's no longer the case, and only makes the academic outlook for certain prospects even murkier.

For colleges with high academic standards, such as Notre Dame, an early official visit comes with an added risk. Football programs are limited to 56 official visits per academic year. Using one on a recruit who doesn't have a realistic chance of being admitted in the school wouldn't be wise.

The Irish could choose to hold off on early official visits, but it would likely leave them falling behind with recruits who want to make an early decision. Instead, they are pursuing early official visits with a set of their own strict requirements. Polian said he spent a lot of time discussing the topic with head coach Brian Kelly and associate head coach Mike Elston.

"We're not going to be bull-headed and say, 'We're not doing this,' " Polian said. "But we've set a very specific criteria that if a guy's here on a visit, we feel like the decision is going to be made before the senior season. There's a number of academic criteria. There are a number of other things that we look at."

Because the official visits are counted by academic year and not by recruiting class, the Irish are limited in the number of official visits available to them. In addition to the 56 available for each school year, as many as six official visits from the previous school year can be rolled over if they're not used.

Polian said Notre Dame can use somewhere between 16 and 19 official visits this spring. ND Insider reported 44 official visits used by Notre Dame in the 2018 class.

"I like the way that we're approaching it. I think it's smart," Polian said. "But ultimately, the ebbs and flows of this, we won't know until we've been through it, because it's uncharted territory."

The early official visits can take place through June 24. Then the recruiting calendar will switch to an elongated dead period. The new dead period will last 30 days. Last year's summer dead period spanned only 14 days.

The recruiting calendar in June should have a little bit different look for Notre Dame. The Irish Invasion, traditionally a one-day camp for top recruits, may no longer serve as the focus in June. Instead, the visits may be more sporadic throughout the month.

"We're still doing all the one-day prospect camps. We'll still make it an exciting event. We'll have the D.J. going and all that stuff," Polian said. "In terms of, 'Hey, we're earmarking this when we want everybody here,' we're going to become a little bit more flexible when it comes to that."

While the Irish have spent time trying to navigate the new recruiting calendar, the emphasis will remain on getting prospects on campus for games. Whether those visits are unofficial visits or official visits, a home game allows Notre Dame to put its complete package on display.

"We want as many here in the fall as we can get, because that's when this place is most special, on a home-game weekend," Polian said. "We'll gear that way, but we're not going to shut ourselves out of the other business."

Offer pace

At least 77 offers from Notre Dame have been reported by 2019 recruits since the start of the year. That number has pushed the total number of reported offers in the class to roughly 163.

The Irish are on pace in the 2019 class to set a new high for the Kelly Era. In the 2017 class, approximately 209 Notre Dame offers were reported. The 2018 class totaled roughly 181.

Turns out the new recruiting calendar has affected early offers from Notre Dame, too.

"It was a result of only having to actively recruit in January a handful of guys (in the 2018 class), so that we were then able to get out and do more background and do more legwork, so we were further along with the '19 class," Polian said. "Our offers tend to be a little bit more real than some others. That's the nature of recruiting. So it is what it is. But we feel pretty good about where our board is right now."

For comparison's sake, the 247Sports database list 165 offers for Ohio State and many more for Alabama (227), Michigan (246), Louisville (281), Florida (288), Tennessee (341).

More Notre Dame offers will certainly be on the way.

"Spring recruiting is still going to show us a second wave, guys that we didn’t necessarily know enough about or all of a sudden there's been a two-inch growth spurt from last October to now or whatever the reason," Polian said. "It happens in waves. Certainly because the calendar sped up does not mean that we de-emphasize what's going to happen in spring recruiting."

At the same time, Polian said, some of those previously reported offers will no longer be attainable.

"We're going to eliminate as many names as we're going to add, maybe more," Polian said. "That's as important in recruiting as anything else — making sure that we're taking the names off the board that may not fit what we stand for, what we're looking for, so that we're not wasting time and we're focusing our energies in the places that they belong."

Rees impact

The addition of director of scouting Bill Rees last year has allowed Notre Dame to have an extra set of eyes evaluating film of potential recruiting targets. Polian said Rees can dedicate time to watching much more than just highlight film to give a complete evaluation.

Rees will take a closer look at game film for a chance to see the highs and lows of a player.

"You can give Bill an index card and at the end of the day, he'll tell you, 'Hey, this is worth our time or maybe he's not for us,' " Polian said. "His ability to give us a set of eyes and continue to grind on tape, it's been incredibly valuable."

Rees, the father of Irish quarterbacks coach Tommy Rees, has worked in scouting and/or coaching for several college and professional teams including UCLA, Northwestern, Wake Forest, the Chicago Bears and the Kansas City Chiefs.


Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Special teams coordinator Brian Polian looks on during Notre Dame football practice Tuesday, March 6, 2018, inside the Loftus Sports Center. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)