In 1978, when I began traveling around the country to evaluate football players, recruiting was in the Dark Ages. It was a cloak-and-dagger operation. There was no USA Today, no ESPN, no Internet.
Major colleges didn't release the names of their recruits until two months after signing day. They didn't want any information to leak out. Instead, they stockpiled more players. They didn't want to mention names so they could continue to recruit.
Joe Montana was one of seven quarterbacks brought in at Notre Dame in 1974. Major Ogilvie was one of several tailbacks recruited by Alabama in 1977. Later, they said they didn't know anything about the others. In those days, it was an acceptable way of doing business.
I was on my own, the only recruiting analyst on the road. There was no Rivals, no Scout. Colleges went out of their way to discourage me. They didn't want any recruiting information to be made public. They had a good thing going and they didn't want anybody to change it.
But look how things have changed. As I noted in my book, "Football's Second Season," recruiting today is a season onto itself. Some fans and alumni get more enjoyment and entertainment out of following the recruiting wars than going to their alma mater's games. It's like conducting the NFL and NBA draft every day of the year.
Look what has happened since the early 1980s, since USA Today, ESPN and the Internet turned recruiting into one of the most popular game shows since Jeopardy. Colleges soon gave up trying to keep it secret. Now they embrace recruiting. They want to get as much publicity as possible on signing day.
It has brought parity to recruiting and college football. Because the NCAA has reduced the number of scholarships from 35 in 1977 to 30, then to 25 in the 1980s, more college programs have become competitive. More schools are going to bowl games. Instead of sitting on the bench at Notre Dame or Michigan or Ohio State or Alabama or Oklahoma or USC or Texas, kids can play at other schools.
The kids are smarter, more savvy about the recruiting process, not as naive as they once were. They are wary of schools that try to stockpile talent. They ask more questions. They are more mature and aware of their options.
Take the case of Nico Johnson of Andalusia, Alabama. He comes from a small town about two hours southeast of Montgomery. It is so far out of the mainstream that my cell phone didn't work there.
Twenty-five years ago, Johnson probably would have slipped through the cracks. He might have received only one or two offers from local schools. Today, he has 20 offers and probably will attend Alabama or Auburn. But he still plans to visit Florida, Florida State and Tennessee.
The point is Johnson is one of the best linebackers in the country but hardly anyone would know about him and he certainly wouldn't know about the X's and O's of the recruiting process if he didn't have access to the Internet and other means of learning how the process works.