COLUMBUS — There is a light at the end of the 13-month-long NCAA dead period tunnel for Ohio State and the rest of college football.
For the first time since March of last year, there is real hope that the dead period will come to an end, likely on May 31. When and if that happens, the Buckeyes will open up campus again for recruits and families eager for a chance to see what Ohio State is all about.
Ryan Day and his coaching staff are equally eager.
“We are dying to get these people on campus and be around them,” Day said Monday. “Host them on visits and have meals with them and laugh with them, look them in the eye and show them our culture. That’s the biggest thing: To see our players and see what’s here. That’s been hard for all of us.”
Ohio State isn’t alone in facing the challenges of the last year. Every school in the country has renovated its recruiting tactics, finding new ways to show interest and stand out from opponents on the recruiting trail. In that vein, a number of schools around the country appear to have found loopholes to get players on campus a few months early. Doors that are normally locked for secure areas on campus are suddenly open, stadiums are being used to host open practices without any security to prevent prospective players from getting in. It’s not rule-breaking by the letter of the law in those cases, but certainly in the spirit of it.
It’s a challenge to stay above the fray right now. But the Buckeyes know they have to. Ohio State believes that adherence to the rules, in spirit and the letter, gives a glimpse into its program.
“People are dying to get on campus, but we are in a dead period right now,” Day said. “We’re always going to do things the right way here. If there are people out there who aren’t, then shame on them. If recruits want to go to a place like that, that is going to go bend the rules if that’s what’s going on, then more power to them. But that’s not how we’re going to do it here.
“We’re always going to do things in a first-class manner and be above board with everything.”
Recruits are making visits on their own — and without guidance. Coaches aren’t supposed to even talk with them while they’re on campus, yet somehow the right doors are unlocked for that particular hour or two. It’s quite convenient if a program is willing to bend the rules. The Buckeyes and the rest of the Big Ten were put at a disadvantage last season, one that continues this spring as other programs host open practices in their stadium.
The Buckeyes have some decisions to make about spring football. The state of Ohio is allowing fans to attend sporting events now. Still, Ohio State hasn’t announced its attendance plans for the April 17 spring game. Keeping recruits away makes it easier to avoid rule breaking, even inadvertently. Day and his coaches are working toward June visits in order to avoid the loopholes.
Even that leads to frustration. The NCAA hasn’t provided much guidance on what to expect when visits are once again permitted.
“There’s really not much we can do preparation wise,” Day said. “Other than talk to the recruits and their families about coming to visits, if it does open up here in June.”
By the time June rolls around, there will have been 15 months of the dead period. Still, there are many unanswered questions about what happens then. How many prospects can visit? Will they be allowed to work out and get an in-person evaluation by coaches? These are all things Ohio State is trying to get sorted out.
“You’re talking about a year and a half of people who haven’t been on campus — that’s really two classes that haven’t been here,” Day said. “They’re going to be coming over the walls. For the 2022 class, we’re going to be able to do some official visits here, which is great, get them back on campus. We’re going to wait to see what the university says about [COVID] testing and that stuff when they come on campus.
“There’s also some talk about possibly having … camps or even in-person evaluations when they get here. We’re waiting to find out and get some direction on what to do. Then at that point, we’ll kind of go from here, but it’s kind of like hurry up and wait and see what’s going to happen here.”
And so the Buckeyes and recruits wait. There are no unlocked doors and no rapidly-planned open practices to entice recruits to make self-guided visits. It’s a long game that Day just has to hope pays off.
“We’re going to take the high road and do things the right way,” he said. “I think that our recruits and our families respect that. Hopefully that’s what they want to be a part of.”
The Buckeyes are going to have to wait until June — at least — to find out.