It’s rare in college sports that a rule can change to benefit the schools and the players, but I heard a suggestion last month that might actually thread that particular needle. This suggestion came from a person who works at a school and deals with recruiting frequently, and it’s something that would have been laughed away 10 years ago. But now, thanks to technological changes and the ways the rules have been modified to adapt to those changes, it makes all manner of sense. What is it?
Allow schools to publicize when they’ve offered a player a scholarship.
In the current college football recruiting universe, a scholarship offer doesn’t really and truly exist until scholarship papers arrive via FedEx the day before the start of the December signing period. This fact and the NCAA rules that restrict school employees from commenting on players they’re recruiting have been used by coaches and by recruits to jerk one another around. Coaches make offers that they’ll later claim weren’t “committable.” Meanwhile, high school players will tell reporters they have offers from schools that never offered them. This is often accepted as fact, and programs later endure negative headlines for getting “beaten” on a player they never offered in the first place.
Bringing this process into the sunshine could help both sides of the equation, and some changes in the past few years have created an environment where this suggestion is actually the next logical step. The schools have tried to adjust the NCAA’s rules regarding publicizing recruiting to keep up with changes in technology. The rules originally existed to keep the schools with the biggest followings from using the intensity of the coverage of their programs to generate copy that tied a recruit to a particular school. The thinking was that Alabama or Ohio State could get their recruits more publicity than Southern Miss or Cincinnati, and that surge in interest would sway players to sign with the Crimson Tide or Buckeyes. (Instead of a hundred other reasons the players would choose the school with more money, a bigger stadium and a bigger fan base.) But social media has democratized publicity. If it’s interesting enough, a Twitter or Instagram post from Colorado State can get as much attention as a post from USC. Plus, it became easy for recruitniks to see which players schools were scouting when we could simply look up which recruits coaches had followed on Twitter.
This led to a loosening of the rules that allowed coaches or recruiting staffers to retweet or favorite social media posts by recruits—thereby confirming interest. (Some schools have actually backed off the retweeting and favorite-ing since the rule changed; coaches realized that recruits count retweets, and that might cause more drama than the cachet from the public acknowledgement is worth.) Meanwhile, the NCAA has allowed schools to confirm or deny whether they’re recruiting a particular player for much longer. So why not take one more baby step that could help recruits and schools in different ways? Don’t open the floodgates and allow schools to make full-throated pitches to recruits in public for the entirety of the process. Simply allow a football program to send this kind of graphic from its official account.
We see these offers now when players publish them, so why not allow the schools to do it? And while we’re at it, let them do it sooner than Aug. 1 of the player’s senior year in high school. I still believe that eliminating signing day entirely and allowing schools to sign players at any point in high school would actually make schools slow down the process and be more judicious with their offers, but that’s never going to pass no matter how much former Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson and I promote it. So let’s at least make it possible for schools to send offers when more than half the class isn’t already committed to offers that clearly were made before the first day schools could offer. Players can begin taking official visits on April 1 of their junior year of high school. Make that the date for the offers.
What would happen if the schools could publicize their offers?
• Some of them wouldn’t offer so many players.
SI’s Ross Dellenger dove into the scholarship offer math in February, and the numbers were staggering. Power Five schools now average 237 offers a year per school, up by 100 from 2012. Tennessee and Syracuse had more than 440 class of 2019 players reporting offers to 247Sports.com. Perhaps not all of those players actually had offers—something else we’d know if the schools could make them public. But having to publicly declare an offer might shame schools out of handing them out like Wendy’s coupons. Because when a team is only allowed to bring in 25 new players a year and it offers 300-plus players, some of those offers aren’t going to wind up being actionable—and that could come as a shock to a recruit trying to commit.
• No recruit would lie about getting an offer, either.
There is a very real p.r. hit a program takes when it gets “beaten” for a recruit. Most fans— even the ones who follow recruiting closely—don’t know all the players their coaches actually want. But when Johnny Shuttlesworth announces he’s chosen to commit to Big State over offers from Tech U, Ol’ Tex and Cal U, the fans of Tech U, Ol’ Tex and Cal U are going to gripe about their coaching staff’s inability to close the deal. That negativity can have a real effect on recruiting and on the job security of coaches. If Ol’ Tex coaches didn’t actually offer Johnny, they could face real consequences caused by negative perception from not getting a player they didn’t want. It may take two or three years for it to become obvious why Ol’ Tex didn’t offer Johnny. If a school’s offers are public, then fans might understand that sometimes their schools aren’t getting beaten for recruits. Sometimes they’re intentionally passing on them.
• It would turn up the heat on coaches who pull offers.
Go back and look at the Clemson offer that receiver Justyn Ross posted (and ultimately accepted). It’s full of disclaimers. He must qualify academically. He must continue to demonstrate good character. He must “continue to display the athletic characteristics consistent with a Clemson Tiger.” In other words, he must keep being good at football. Most scholarship offer letters—though not all social media offer graphics—contain this sort of language. And it’s perfectly understandable if a coach pulls an offer because a player is flunking classes or balloons to 400 pounds or knocks over a liquor store or waits to commit until the team has filled its allotment at the player’s position. What isn’t so understandable is when a player has an offer and commits months before signing day and then gets told there is no room for him in the class shortly before signing day. If the coach liked the player enough to post the scholarship and the player didn’t do anything that ran afoul of the disclaimers, the coach had better have a really good explanation for why he has no scholarship for the player. This could keep players from getting squeezed at the end of the process.
If the schools could make the the scholarship offer public, it wouldn’t make the offer more official. The only “real” offer remains that FedEx envelope full of athletic aid documents. But allowing both sides of the bargain to publicly acknowledge the offer might improve the process for everyone involved.
A Random Ranking
Tony Gerdeman, the intrepid writer for The Ozone, is much better than me at coming up with topics for this section. Friday night, he asked a fantastic question.
So let’s rank the top 10. But please understand that this might be the easiest No. 1 I’ve ever chosen.
1. “My Own Worst Enemy”, Lit
2. “Enter Sandman”, Metallica
3. “Dammit”, blink-182
4. “Bullet With Butterfly Wings”, Smashing Pumpkins
5. “Head Like A Hole”, Nine Inch Nails*
6. “Lithium”, Nirvana
7. “Laid”, James
8. “Zombie”, The Cranberries
9. “Would?”, Alice in Chains
10. “Banditos”, The Refreshments
*Pretty Hate Machine was released in October 1989, but “Head Like A Hole” wasn’t released like a single (remember those?) until March 1990. So it’s eligible, darn it.
Three And Out
1. SEC presidents voted to allow schools to decide whether they want to sell beer at athletic events. Some schools may make the switch for this football season, but others don’t plan to change.
2. We have our first case of a player being sucked back through the NCAA’s transfer portal. Freshman receiver Bru McCoy, who enrolled at USC in January before deciding to transfer to Texas, has decided to transfer back to USC.
Texas made a last-ditch effort to keep McCoy last week. Coach Tom Herman and quarterback Sam Ehlinger were part of a group that flew to California to try to convince McCoy to stay with the Longhorns. But McCoy decided he’d rather play near home. The assumption is that he won’t be able to see the field for USC until 2020 after transferring twice. But I’d love to read the waiver application if USC tries to get him eligible for 2019.
3. Arizona State coach Herm Edwards has added former Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis to the Sun Devils’ staff in an advisory role.
What’s Eating Andy?
I’m on vacation beginning Monday, so this will be the last Punt, Pass and Pork until late this month. I’ll be back to work June 24 unless I get bored and come back earlier.
What’s Andy Eating?
When my wife and I were deciding what to name our children, some of the options I suggested veered away from the conventional. My wife, who doesn’t pay much attention to sports but knows sports will get my attention, shot down those suggestions with one question:
Did Joe Montana or John Elway’s parents need to name their kids something weird to make them memorable?
She had a great point. It’s not the name you’re given. It’s what you do with it.
Which brings us to Jon Smith Subs, which might be the most generically named chain in America. It also might have one of the best sandwiches of any chain in America. And a memorable sandwich beats a memorable name every time.
First, some history. The place is named after its founder, who moved to south Florida in the late 1980s after running a set of successful ice cream shops in Massachusetts. When he arrived in Palm Beach County, Smith saw a lot of successful ice cream shops but not many successful sandwich shops. (Remember, this was before there was a Subway in every shopping center.) So he opened two sandwich shops, and they did great business. By 2015, the chain had nine locations confined to a fairly small area.
But after allowing a franchising company to seek more partners, the place has exploded. It has opened stores across the country. It has expanded to the United Kingdom, Portugal and Australia. If all goes well, Jon Smith Subs will become your favorite sandwich shop no matter where you live. And if you aren’t put off by the price point, it probably will.
Despite living in Florida for most of the time the chain has existed, I didn’t run across a Jon Smith Subs until last week in Miramar Beach, Fla. This location had been open for seven months, and it seemed to be developing traction with vacationers visiting Destin and the other beach towns along U.S. Highway 98. The reason for this traction is the Steak Bomb, a mouth-watering sub that hits a lot of cheesesteak beats but in a way most chain sub shops either can’t or won’t. Sirloin steak is cut fresh, marinated and then tossed on the grill when you order your sandwich. Mushrooms and peppers also get grilled to order. These are then packed alongside provolone cheese into a pillowy soft roll baked either in-house or locally. (In-house in the case of the location I visited.)
The Steak Bomb is several notches better than anything at Jersey Mike’s or Firehouse, which currently make the best macro-chain sandwiches. But the question is whether enough people will be willing to fork over $6.29 for a six-inch or $10.99 for a footlong. Jimmy John’s is fast, which matters for people grabbing lunch during work and for parents with kids. Subway, which isn’t even in the same universe taste-wise as the chains mentioned above, beats them all on price point. The subsequent dropoff in quality is obvious, but are people willing to wait a few minutes and pay that much more for great as opposed to adequate?
The target audience for these sandwiches isn’t Subway diners, though. It’s either Five Guys diners or people who choose the less healthy options at Panera Bread. Those people are accustomed to dropping $15–$18 on a quick lunch. They’re willing to pay more for better ingredients. And if they’re Five Guys diners, they’re willing to pony up for good fries. That’s one plus Jon Smith Subs has that the massive chains it is trying to dethrone do not, and it could be an important differentiating factor. I love some salt and vinegar chips, but sometimes I want fries with my sandwich. Jon Smith’s fries are crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. They aren’t too skinny or too fat. (Think McDonald’s fries in terms of surface area-to-volume ratio.) And they pair beautifully with a steak sub.
Given the franchise’s plans, you’ll probably drive by a Jon Smith Subs someday soon. You’ll probably say to yourself, “What a plain name.” But if you stop in and push through the sticker shock long enough to order a Steak Bomb, you’ll never forget the sandwich.