No-visit policies take center stage again

A no-visit policy should be an unspoken, unwritten, does-this-really-need-to-be-explained policy.

That is how decorated Jersey City (N.J.) St. Peter’s Prep coach Rich Hansen views it. It’s part of being a verbal commitment, he says. At least, that is how it should be.

“You commit to School X and your end of the bargain is you’re not gonna visit or court any other schools,” Hansen said, “... but college football created this mess and now they’re getting some of the punch back. Unless they stop offering freshmen, offering eighth graders, stop these idiotic things, then it is going to be around.”

Hansen is referring to verbally committed players taking visits, which has been a talking point after Rutgers lost a few commitments last week.

Three-star receiver David Njoku reportedly had his scholarship pulled following an October visit to Penn State; Njoku denied that to ESPN.com and said he decommitted. ESPN 300 receiver Adonis Jennings decommitted after visiting Pittsburgh, knowing the Scarlet Knights coaches were ready to pull his offer. And fellow ESPN 300 athlete Kiy Hester decommitted when coach Kyle Flood told him he would no longer be considered a commitment if he followed through with visit plans. Late Sunday, four-star quarterback Tyler Wiegers decommitted and is planning an Iowa visit as early as this coming weekend.

The fact is no-visit policies are still the exception rather than the rule, which is why Rutgers’ stance has created headlines. Michigan and Texas have no-visit policies, and Oregon, under former coach Chip Kelly, did not allow visits. When push came to shove, however, all three softened their stance and curtailed the policy for ESPN 300 prospects that visited elsewhere.

“Probably no school should have it, but some schools when they say [don’t take a visit] you probably don’t want to do it,” said a New Jersey high school coach who has previously sent players to Rutgers. “Nick Saban never says that, but he has the ability to say it. Only certain schools can puff out their chest and do it.”

One Big Ten assistant said he likes the idea of a no-visit policy. Another Big Ten assistant said it could end up driving away recruits who would likely stick with their commitment. Both argue legitimate points. If a player commits to a school, he should be loyal to that program. Others argue this is the only time the recruit holds the cards and feelings for 17- and 18-year old kids fluctuate wildly. The debate extends far outside the banks of the Raritan in Piscataway, N.J., too.

Two Rutgers commitments, who were granted anonymity to ensure truthful answers, said if a player is not sure about his commitment, he should be allowed to visit other schools. Both said ideally a committed prospect would not need to take visits but extenuating circumstances often arise.

“For someone who isn’t sure of their decision and the family still thinks it’s a good idea to explore, then it’s wrong for [the school to implement the policy], but if you have your mind made up, you shouldn’t take any more visits,” said one commit, speaking generally about no-visit policies and not Rutgers’.

Njoku, who parted ways with Rutgers in October, said he was unaware of the school’s no-visit policy before visiting Penn State for the Michigan game. The visit was simply to have “fun [with] my friends.”

However, a few minutes later Njoku said he indeed was looking around. “Rutgers was still recruiting other receivers so I thought it was fair to window shop, as well,” he said.

Hansen, in his 31st year at St. Peter’s, said he thought more schools would have no-visit policies. He believes the only time a recruit should take visits is if coaches leave or they weren’t upfront with the player.

Jennings, the ESPN 300 receiver, began wavering months ago. A source close to the situation said Jennings was told by the staff there was only one spot left at receiver, prompting an early commitment. Weeks later, receiver Saeed Blacknall committed and Rutgers continued recruiting athlete Noah Brown. NCAA rules forbid Rutgers from commenting publicly on unsigned recruits.

There is pressure during the recruiting process for prospects to commit early, and it's not always directly from coaches.

An NCAA rule clarification will undoubtedly thicken the plot. If a prospect plans to enroll early, a school can offer him a financial-aid agreement, which is non-binding for the committed player. The school is locked into it. In theory, a player could sign a financial-aid agreement, ensuring a spot in the class and continue visiting elsewhere without the threat of his scholarship being yanked.

“I don’t understand why college football would want to do that,” Hansen said. “It makes a toxic situation even more toxic.”

New Jersey’s top two juniors are under Hansen’s tutelage. Both Minkah Fitzpatrick and Brandon Wimbush are among the top 100 prospects in the 2015 ESPN Junior 300, and Hansen’s advice is to let the process play out as long as possible.

A piece of advice from Njoku, who was asked what he would do differently if given an opportunity to go back: “I probably shouldn’t have committed so early.”