Friday marks the first day of the fall contact period for coaches and players. The period runs from Sept. 9 through Oct. 5 and is an important time for the coaches and players.
There are rules relegating how many contacts coaches can have with a player in a calendar year, so the notion of a coach spending every day with a recruit is not plausible. The maximum time a school's coach can see a player during this period is once a week.
College coaches use the period as a time to strengthen their position with targets, evaluate underclassmen, gather information and gauge the recruit's overall interest in the program.
Face to face
The best players have pretty much narrowed their final lists down or at the minimum are heading in that direction. Thanks to this period, coaches have the ability to get out and connect face-to-face with their senior targets on the prospect's turf. Coaches can talk ad nauseam on the phone, but there's no replacement for good, old-fashioned face-to-face communication.
No place like home
In-home visits allow coaches to take the next step with their recruits. This may be the only opportunity a recruit's entire family has to rub elbows with his future coach. Connections are made in these settings that can help the player reach his decision. From a coach's standpoint, meeting and shaking hands with any potential person who could impact the recruit's decision is a valuable use of time. Whether it's a first impression or a final one, relationships take on new meaning in these settings.
The great coaches will have command of the living room during in-home visits and use this as a chance to perform superbly on another stage. They will roll out their best plans of attack and try to map out how the prospect plays a role within the confines of their program.
The head coach enters a player's home with a set of goals. Ideally, if it's a top-tier target, the coach wants to either receive a commitment, lock down a visit date or address any concerns the player, his family or members of his inner circle may have. Let's face it, at some point a player's parents or guardian has to sign off on the decision. The in-home visit can either solidify a decision or sour a recruit on a coach based on how others around him view the coach. Coaches will smile, compliment mom on her cooking and move on to the next stop.
Not every contact is an in-home visit. Coaches will often go to watch a player's workout at his high school. At this time, coaches have a great idea of their priorities for the senior class. Watching a senior workout can be nothing more than another way of showing their desire to sign the young man. However, workouts can also be key evaluation settings. Each program enters the month with a priority list of players. However, most programs are also cultivating a backup list in case they miss out on their top targets. Going to see a player's workout gives coaches another evaluation setting and chance to gather information. In some cases, a coach receives a player's name post-July and is going to see if he's worthy of a scholarship offer or further evaluation. During September and early October, a lot of schools will also build out lists of potential spring targets. However, some prospects will also get crossed off a school's list completely following a workout.
Looking to the future
Not every program needs to go out and conduct in-home visits with seniors or watch members of the Class of 2012 work out. A handful of programs are looking to the future and have started to evaluate and cultivate relationships with underclassmen. Coaches who are ahead of the game will be sure to hit as many workouts of underclassmen as possible, but there's a key difference during these workouts. Coaches are allowed to speak with seniors during these workouts and visits but talking with underclassmen is a violation of NCAA rules and is not permitted. However, every BCS and most mid-level programs will make a point of seeing key underclassman targets during this period.
As much as the coaches value this period, the players are able to gather information as well. During this contact period, recruits have a chance to see which schools come watch them and meet with their families. If you're a senior and a coach doesn't ask to do a home visit or offer an official visit, that's not a good sign. If a school on your list -- at least in your mind -- doesn't have a coach come to see you in September of your senior year, it's communicating the notion that you aren't a priority. Underclassmen won't forget the schools that popped by to see them during this period. Players file away the faces of the guys who were on them early, even if they can't speak with the coaches.
• When out in major metropolitan areas, college coaches will often schedule as many visits to different schools as possible in a single day. This is an advantage for coaches who typically recruit in areas that are hotbeds for talent.
• Assistant coaches do the bulk of the heavy lifting during the month. The head coach will be the point man for the in-home visit and will see key targets; however, the assistants spend the most time on the road, eyeballing the next few classes of prospective recruits.
• Access to a private plane is a major advantage. Schools that can barnstorm multiple areas in short periods of time have the ability to get their head coach seen by a higher number of key targets. Private planes are major time savers at the highest level.
• Not every program wants its competitors to know its plans. There's an element of secrecy some schools operate under during this period. The rule of thumb is, if you've found a sleeper, stay quiet and build a strong foundation before the recruit gets discovered.
• During this period, coaches often drop by to see high school coaches with whom they have relationships. A college program might not necessarily be recruiting a player from the school but the coach will pop in and be seen in order to maintain the relationship.
Dave Telep is the senior basketball recruiting analyst for ESPN.com. His college basketball scouting service is used by more than 225 colleges and numerous NBA teams. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don't forget to follow him on Twitter.