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What recruits really want from recruiting reforms

When it comes to college football recruiting reform, we know what athletic directors and conference commissioners want. Last week, head coaches unanimously made it clear what they support. But what's been hard to define since October, when the NCAA Division I Council unveiled a proposal for sweeping changes to the recruiting model, is exactly what players want.

NCAA Division I Proposal 2016-16 calls for major restrictions to summer recruiting camps; the introduction of 72-hour signing windows that would begin on the last Wednesday in June and another on the third Wednesday in December; and modifications to the recruiting calendar that would allow official visits in June and July.

Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips, the chair of the Division I Council, said there was a "mandate made very clear by university presidents to have the Council work on comprehensive, holistic recruiting reform, including how to address satellite camps, early signing and adjustments in the recruiting calendar." Phillips believes the package is "very student-athlete and family friendly" and "would fix a lot of what's wrong with recruiting today."

Coaches admit they like some parts of the package but are strongly against other portions of it. During the final day of the American Football Coaches Association convention last week in Nashville, Tennessee, AFCA executive director Todd Berry said more than 100 FBS head coaches are ready to take "a step toward multiple signing days," and the coaching community is "unanimously in favor of a mid-December signing period." Berry also said there was "zero support" from coaches for the June signing period, and the group was "collectively not in favor of adjusting the official visitor calendar."

While coaches, athletic directors and conference commissioners talk a lot about what is the best for the prospective student athletes, there has actually been very little feedback from the people recruiting reform affects the most since it was first introduced 103 days ago. RecruitingNation surveyed and interviewed many of the nation's top junior and senior high school football prospects to get their opinions on the legislation and see the potential impacts of the proposal.

Ninety senior recruits at the Under Armour All-America Game were asked whether there should be an early signing period in December, and a strong majority of 70 percent believed there should be. Junior recruits are pretty much on the same page as their peers, as 68 percent of the recruits at the Future 50 at the Under Armour All-America Game earlier this month said there should be an early signing period in December.

Those results are similar to what 168 Under Armour All-Americans in the 2015 and 2016 classes said when they were surveyed about an early signing period. The 2015 and 2016 classes combined supported an early signing period in December by around 72 percent.

"December is the perfect time for recruits to have their first opportunity to sign," said Anthony Hines III, the No. 1 senior inside linebacker and an early enrollee at Texas A&M. "For a lot of recruits, they're going to take two or three official visits, and they'll know what they want to do by the middle of December. Even for guys like me that take all five visits, it's still more than enough time.

"I think December is the sweet spot. A lot of us know by then, and even if we don't, then you can just wait it out until February to do it."

The December early signing window idea is also a hit with a many longtime committed prospects, including ESPN 300 receiver Tylan Wallace, who committed to Oklahoma State in March. Even though he has not waivered on his commitment to the Cowboys, he said a December signing period would allow recruits in his situation to see how things play out on the field during the season.

"Seeing what I saw on the field this season with OSU made my commitment even stronger, and I would have been really excited to sign in December if I could have," said Wallace, the No. 11 receiver in the country. "It also gives you just a little bit of a window if you did have any second thoughts to maybe look around at another school or two. It's not too soon and it's not too late."

Much like the coaches, recruits aren't big fans of being able to sign in the summer months of June, July or August. A slight majority, 51 percent, of seniors at the Under Armour Game said there should be a June signing period, while only 43 percent of the juniors at the Future 50 supported the June proposal. The former recruits surveyed in the 2015 and 2016 classes were actually strongly against a summer signing window, with only a 38 percent support rate.

Like many other prospects, Adrian Martinez, a junior quarterback from Fresno (California) Clovis West that committed to Cal in November over offers from more than 10 schools, fears prospects could be "trapped" if they signed in June and there was a coaching change.

"You see a lot of flipping, and you see a lot of people who think this way at first; and then when it's later in the year -- when they see the team more, hear more from the coaches or if the coach changes -- they have an entirely different opinion," Martinez said. "A June signing period would force a lot of people to be stuck or trapped in a bad situation without a way to get out."

Four-star linebacker Ellis Brooks committed early in the process to Duke but later backed away from the pledge and is now one of the nation's hottest recruits, with Maryland, Northwestern, LSU, Oregon and Notre Dame all battling for his commitment. Brooks said if there were a summer signing period, he would have "signed four years of his life away."

"The process isn't broken, but recruits all agree it can be improved. I know we would welcome change, and I'm hopeful the guys talking about all of this actually listen to us." ESPN 300 recruit Ellis Brooks

"Sometimes as a kid that's a junior in high school, you follow your emotions, and you're not necessarily making a smart decision," Brooks said. "You're not always the most mature person, and it's tough to make such a life-changing decision. Waiting until December or February to sign gives you time to mature through the recruiting process. You always have a favorite. They could be the first offer. It could be your home school. It could be they always recruited you the hardest.

"I think waiting a little bit gives you a chance to step back as you get older and more mature with the process, and it lets you not make too rushed of a decision."

Like numerous high school and college coaches, Bradenton (Florida) IMG Academy ESPN 300 safety and LSU commit Grant Delpit doesn't like the June signing period proposal, because he fears some recruits might sit out their senior season if they've already signed with a college because "they've already got it made."

Recruits do side with the administrators, athletic directors and commissioners when it comes to the idea of taking official visits earlier in the process, though.

While coaches don't want major changes to the recruiting calendar, 70 percent of the seniors at the Under Armour Game believe recruits should be able to take official visits before the start of their senior year. Junior prospects at the Future 50 supported earlier visits by 73 percent margin, and it was the same 73 percent ratio with the 2015 and 2016 Under Armour All-Americans.

"Of all of the stuff that's been proposed, early official visits is the best idea out there," said Angleton (Texas) High School safety B.J. Foster, the No. 17 recruit in the ESPN Junior 300.

Hines agreed and said he would have loved being able to take his five official visits in the summer months, instead of juggling trips around Thursday and Friday night high school football games. Hines said he sometimes felt "rushed trying to get out the door" to make it from Dallas to places such as State College, Pennsylvania; Gainesville, Florida; Los Angeles; and Columbus, Ohio, for his visits in September and October.

"You want to have your entire focus on the schools you're visiting, but part of you is still thinking about the game on Thursday or Friday night," Hines said. "You also feel a little bit selfish for being away from your teammates on these trips."

Others like the summer visit idea because certain positional players, such as quarterbacks, are pushed by college coaches to make decisions earlier than others.

"You see guys like me and other quarterbacks commit early," Martinez said. "When that happens, you're pretty much relying on the fact my parents had to pay for trips to go visit these schools, as opposed to taking these official visits that I would like to take or I wish I could take. I think because of how the whole recruiting game is played at certain positions, you're forced to make a decision early, but I couldn't really afford to take all the visits I'd like to. I think that letting recruits take visits earlier would be a great opportunity."

While recruits seem to differ from administrators and coaches on different aspects of recruiting reform, they overwhelmingly support the idea of change. The surveys of the top prospects in the country in four different recruiting cycles suggest that. But so do interviews with more than 50 different prospects, and every single recruit said change of some sort is needed.

"The process isn't broken, but recruits all agree it can be improved," Brooks said. "I know we would welcome change, and I'm hopeful the guys talking about all of this actually listen to us."