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What Big Ten's cancellation of 2020 football means to recruiting

The Big Ten announced Tuesday that it has canceled the 2020 fall college football season due to the COVID-19 health pandemic. This is an incredibly fluid situation, but here are five recruiting questions to consider moving forward during these uncertain times.

BIG TEN CANCELS SEASON: Will try to play in spring

CLASS OF 2021 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | Position | Team | State

CLASS OF 2022: Top 100

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1. What will happen to signing day?

Aubrey Solomon
Aubrey Solomon (USA TODAY Sports Images)

The usual dates of a December early signing period which has become the cornerstone of the recruiting world would probably be completely gone, at least for this recruiting cycle. The 2021 prospects most likely will not be able to take official visits through the fall if there is no football season and there was some speculation that they might not have been able to take trips even if there was a season because of logistical complications.

A National Signing Day in February is also in question because of similar issues. If prospects cannot visit campuses, it would be hard to fathom they would be asked to sign a letter of intent locking them into a certain program. There seems to be significant questions about what the recruiting rules will be come Sept. 1 and that leads to only more questions about the timelines for 2021 prospects to sign.

Other questions about that continue to lead down the rabbit hole. One is, how will coaching staffs know exact numbers for signing classes or limits on scholarship numbers if: 1. Players are opting out because of health concerns; and 2. What happens if 2020 players are awarded an extra year of eligibility? Will that count against total numbers allowed?


2. Do 2020 athletes get an extra year of eligibility if they don’t play in the spring?

In late March, the NCAA Division I Council voted to grant an extra year of eligibility to all spring sport athletes whose season was cancelled. The same thing might be expected for 2020 football players not only since the fall season has been canceled but if the Big Ten and other conferences cannot play in the spring as well.

Canceling the fall season does not guarantee a season will happen in the spring. More than anything, it pushes the timeline further down the road but many of the same issues and concerns will remain and according to the CDC the busiest months for flu transmission is from December through February but can last as long as May. Coupling coronavirus and flu through the winter and into the early spring, it’s hard to believe a spring season is a guarantee at all.


3. Will visits be able to happen in the fall or spring?

Virtual visits are nice. Many top prospects have said they’ve been valuable through the coronavirus travel shutdown. As a parent or prospect, though, would you be wild about signing with a school - sometimes across a region or across the country - without actually stepping foot on campus? That issue presents itself if visits during the fall or spring do not happen and there’s no doubt it’s going to be a concern moving forward.

If it’s determined not safe enough from a health perspective to play games in the fall and especially have fans in the stadiums, then the next line of thinking would be how could it possibly be safe for recruits and their families to travel by airplane, stay in hotels, meet with coaches, academic people and other high-profile people on a college campus.

So then we move to the spring. First, most high school seasons will be going on then so travel becomes more difficult. Schedules will be changed. Online learning at the high school level could still be going on. Games might be played across the conference and across college football but with limits in the stands. And so the same concerns and issues would arise - but now prospects would be intermingling with the players on the team? It just sounds like too many problems to deal with from a standpoint of protecting all parties involved.


4. Will 2021 players who enroll early be immediately eligible to play in the spring?

A trend that we’ve seen over the last few weeks is that 2021 prospects in states where high school football has been pushed to the spring are announcing that they plan to leave early and enroll in college. But what happens with college seasons now pushed to the spring – are those prospects now immediately eligible to play? If they or the coaching staffs, decide not to have them participate, will it count as a redshirt season?

Again, one question leads to 10 others and answers to all of them are not possible at this point. But it’s highly unlikely that a high school prospect leaves for college late in the fall or early winter and then is prepared to immediately play once arriving on campus. Many players who enroll early during usual times and go through an entire spring season are not prepared, let alone being thrown right into the season.


5. What happens if pandemic continues through the spring?

When it pertains to recruiting, this is a question that almost fizzles the mind there are so many problems, issues and concerns. Pushing the season to the spring as a first step is one thing. What happens if the spring season does not happen because coronavirus spikes continue, a vaccine is not released or it’s not successful and stay-at-home orders continue like they have through this summer in large swaths of the country?

This situation from a recruiting perspective could be disastrous. Prospects in the 2021 class could be held in some kind of limbo as to whether they can even visit a school before signing with them, depending on when signing days will occur. Numerous top prospects would have already finished any kind of high school coursework and plans are in place to enroll in college even though college campuses might be limiting students on campus and football could still be shutdown. Essentially, if the same health conditions exist in the spring as now, why would a season happen and what would the justification be for having high school players visit campus or prospects enroll in college?

Recruiting could remain the same. Virtual visits dominate the scene, texts, phone calls and FaceTime continue en masse. But now we’re dealing with two recruiting classes behind the curve as the 2021 prospects try to figure out where they can go to college and 2022 players who usually use the spring prior to their senior season to travel the country and visit campuses are stuck home wondering what will come next.