NORMAN — Lincoln Riley’s signature tweet, featuring a lone eyeball emoji, to hint an Oklahoma verbal commitment might come less frequently this off-season as it has in the past.
The NCAA’s temporary recruiting dead period that extends through April 15, instituted last week to prevent in-person recruiting in response to the spreading coronavirus disease, is the cause.
OU also placed restrictions on its programs with the suspension of all on-campus and off-campus recruiting, OU athletics director Joe Castiglione said during a teleconference last Thursday.
“That means everything from going out to an official visit, a home visit, going to watch a game or a practice, having a prospective student-athlete come to campus for an official visit or an unofficial visit,” Castiglione said. “However, coaches [could] use the current recruiting calendar and current recruiting rules to guide their means of contact prospective student-athletes through electronic means.”
Social media, text messages and phone calls keep coaches connected with prospective student-athletes year-round when permissible. But it’s hard to replicate the relationships OU’s been able to foster through face-to-face interactions during the spring.
Josh McCuistion, who’s covered OU recruiting for Rivals’ SoonerScoop.com since 2001, says college football’s downtime is where OU’s been most aggressive recruiting-wise since Bob Stoops was the program’s head coach.
“They didn't want to go crazy during the football season. They did what they had to do, just kind of their due diligence, but they weren't really pressing like some other schools did,” McCuistion said. “And so you'd see big [recruiting] periods in November, December, January, and you'd see big periods through March, April, May.
“So, that's where this really stings Oklahoma is it's going to be hard to make up that time in what has always been such a crucial piece of their classes.”
Oklahoma boasted 12 verbal commitments for its 2020 recruiting class before the start of fall camp in August 2019 and added five more in the month of December. The Sooners eventually signed 23 players.
For its 2019 recruiting class, OU had 15 verbal pledges for its 24-player signing class before the start of its 2018 fall camp and received seven more commitments between December 16, 2018, and Jan. 17, 2019.
Laying the foundation of its recruiting classes during the spring yields myriad advantages.
The timing is convenient for recruits to travel to Norman, as opposed to the fall when they’re in the middle of their high school football seasons. It’s also a chance for OU to make a good first impression with a target that it hopes will stick from the spring until the early signing period begins in mid-December.
It’s why OU’s pushed its spring game as a major recruiting weekend; perhaps, best told with each of the Sooners’ 2021 commitments having attended last year’s event.
Cody Jackson, a four-star receiver from Richmond, Texas, committed just two days after his 2019 spring game visit, while Ethans Downs, a three-star defensive end from Weatherford, and Cullen Montgomery, the three-star offensive tackle from Houston Episcopal, waited a few months after the visit to make their verbal pledge.
If OU can’t hold its spring game, it’d force the program out of its comfort zone and put off pushing hard for its next signing class until the summer and fall.
Although, it could still yield positive results for OU’s coaching staff.
“I can almost make a case that it could be advantageous for Oklahoma, because then they can maybe get guys to take visits in the fall, a little closer to signing day,” McCuistion said. “They've had a problem over the last few years of guys visiting early, kind of falling in love and then eight months in time passing before signing day and they kind of fall in love with other schools.
“… It's one of those things where I'm sure in Oklahoma's mind it probably doesn't play well, but I think if given the chance, it could be kind of a blessing in disguise.”