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Navigating Spring Official Visits

Several significant changes were made to the NCAA FBS recruiting calendar last year, complete with significant hand-wringing from college coaches about how it could negatively affect recruiting as a whole. But the new early signing period in December proved to be an overwhelming positive, and now, we’ve launched into the second massive adjustment to the recruiting calendar—spring official visits.

Beginning April 1, high school juniors—the 2019 recruiting class—are able to take official visits. Previously, official visits were permissible beginning Sept. 1 of a prospect’s senior season. The visit window runs through June 24 this year—the Sunday before the last Wednesday in June—which gives prospects roughly 12 weeks to take their official visits this spring, before that window closes and then opens again in September.

Just as with the early signing period, much will be made of the pros and cons of these early visits without any tangible evidence available, though there does seem to be less concern voiced by college coaches about these early visits—whether that’s because they had a positive experience with the early signing period or are simply resigned to the new rules.

The early signing period appears to be the new regular signing period, after a majority of programs filled a majority of their classes during those three days. Even USC, which was working to fill a limited class, officially brought in 10 of its 18 signees in December. The early signing period also cut down drastically on the 11th-hour drama and commitment flips that had become a staple of January leading into the first Wednesday in February. But while these early official visits were designed to go hand-in-hand with the early signing period as the recruiting calendar continues its creep forward, there is still a wait-and-see approach being taken, even as we are two weeks into the visit period.

Prospects are still showing a willingness to take unofficial visits this spring and many coaches across the country don’t appear to be pushing to host official visitors.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney likely won’t host any official visitors this spring.

“I don’t think we’ll do any official visits this spring,” Swinney told The Clemson Insider this past February. “My big thing is, I’m not into the entertainment deal. If guys can’t get here unofficially, they’re probably not coming for four years.”

Florida State put together a massive spring recruiting weekend without the use of official visits and Oregon looks to be loading up on unofficial visitors for this coming weekend. Meanwhile, Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley loaded up in a big way, as the Sooners brought in 18 official visitors this past weekend, eventually earning commitments from five of them.

While USC hasn’t hit the ground running with spring official visits, head coach Clay Helton did mention the possibility of taking advantage of the new calendar on a recent edition of Trojans Live.

“It will be a different time for us,” Helton said of this spring. “For the first year, you’ll actually have official visits in spring, so we’ll actually be taking some weekends in April, May, and June, and hosting young men coming in.”

Without the benefit of a sold-out spring game providing a perfect backdrop to host a massive group of visitors, it remains to be seen how USC will handle its early visits. The Trojans did a fine job getting a number of notable unofficial visitors on campus during spring ball and were one of a number of programs proving the unofficial spring visit is still very much alive and well despite the potential for officials. And truthfully, the window of opportunity this spring might already be closing. Between April 15 and the end of May, coaches will be on the road constantly during the spring evaluation period. USC also has just three more weekends until commencement, after which the campus will be largely devoid of students and classes. After that, June weekends will be filled with USC summer football camps, which would drastically cut into an official visitor’s time with the coaching staff.

Ultimately, though, USC sits in a good place with the addition of these spring visits. Helton has shown that he prefers not to have his attention split between coaching the team and hosting visitors during the season, which would seemingly put a spring visit weekend smack between spring ball and summer camps right in his wheelhouse.

But if the Trojans want to continue with the way they’ve gone in years without early official visits, Helton and staff have shown they can beautifully navigate the early signing period by making early decisions on targets and loading up on official visitors between the end of the season and the mid-December signing days.

And though there is no data to back this up yet, considering it’s the first year of spring visit, it makes sense that USC—a power program in the heart of a fertile recruiting ground—could be one of the programs that ultimately benefits the most from prospects using their visits in the spring. While schools such as Nebraska and Oklahoma undoubtedly receive huge boosts with their ability to host visitors this spring, those schools either have to convince those same recruits to take an unofficial return trip in the fall or winter to remind them of what the school has to offer, or hope that those memories created in the spring can last up to eight months.

In the case of a Southern California USC target, if he’s used most or all of his official visits during the spring, that likely means he’ll take multiple unofficial visits to USC in the fall, and the Trojans coaches will always take their chances when they have the chance to make the final impression.

(photo – Incoming USC RB Markese Stepp on his official visit to USC)

Erik McKinney

Erik McKinney began writing for WeAreSC in 2004, during his junior year at USC, covering the Trojans football team and recruiting. He then moved on to ESPN.com in 2011, where he served as the West Region recruiting reporter and then the Pac-12 recruiting reporter. He took over as publisher of WeAreSC in January, 2019.

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