Recruiting has changed dramatically in the last 30 years, not for the better. Remember when prospects didn't announce their college decisions until signing day in February? Today, it's all about negative recruiting, early commitments, de-commiting and transfers.
It isn't a coincidence that the three top-rated players in the nation--quarterback Terrelle Pryor of Jeannette, Pa., running back Darrell Scott of Ventura, Calif., and wide receiver Julio Jones of Foley, Ala.--still are uncommitted. They can afford to wait. Colleges will hold scholarships for them. They can't be pressured.
But most of the others on the top 100 list have made early commitments, as long ago as last summer. It is estimated that more than 100 will de-commit before signing day. Prospects often make decisions for the wrong reasons. They aren't educated in the recruiting process and they panic if they have only one or two offers before July. Or they leap at the first offer.
Bill Rees recalls when the recruiting process was just as competitive but more sensible. He was UCLA's recruiting coordinator from 1979 to 1994 under coach Terry Donahue. He built a reputation as one of the top 10 recruiters in the nation.
In those days, Rees said, "you went down to the wire with a lot of great players and most of them didn't decide until the week of signing day. Very rarely would they commit until then."
Rees was the first truly national recruiter since Knute Rockne at Notre Dame in the 1920s. He changed the way the recruiting game was played. He went everywhere to find great players, from New Jersey to Virginia to Texas. Now every top 25 program recruits nationally.
He signed linemen Frank Cornish from Mount Carmel and Brian Wilcox from Libertyville and linebacker Jim Wagner from Buffalo Grove. He also persuaded All-Pro lineman Jonathan Ogden of Washington, D.C., to choose UCLA over Florida, Michigan, Notre Dame and Virginia.
He doesn't envy today's college recruiters. Recruiting is a "very inexact business" and he argues that it doesn't make sense to evaluate a prospect only on the basis of film and summer camp performance, then pressure him into making an early commitment.
"We had the luxury of seeing kids practice and play in games. Then we would offer. Rarely did we offer prior to his senior year," Rees said. "Now kids are offered as juniors, when they haven't matured. It always has been a guessing game but the risk is even higher now.
"But colleges dont' have any other choice because everyone else is doing it. If you don't offer, you fall behind. Today, a prospect's value is based on who offered him, not how good he is. You must watch a tape of a kid throughout his career to make a thorough evaluation."