An unofficial visit to a member institution by a prospective student-athlete is a visit made at the prospective student-athlete’s own expense. The provision of any expenses or entertainment valued at more than $100 by the institution or representatives of its athletics interests shall require the visit to become an official visit, except as permitted in Bylaws 13.5 and 13.7.
Official visits, those financed by the institution, do not start until a prospect starts their senior year of high school. Even then, a prospect gets five official visits and only one to each school. And in football, basketball, and baseball, an institution is limited in how many official visits it can provide each year.
Thamel’s article does not present many good solutions for solving the unofficial visit issue. One idea thrown out that is getting discussion this year is allowing official visits to begin at some time during the junior year. That might help some, cutting down on big “junior day” weekends that look a lot like official visit events and draw prospects from around the country, raising questions about how they paid for it. But with only five visits and one chance to see a school, the official visit is not the answer without significantly raising recruiting costs.
The reason the unofficial visit is such a vexing problem is that many coaches and recruits are fond of early commitments. There are a lot of coaches who are good at recruiting, but far fewer who truly enjoy it. Most would prefer to wrap up a couple classes as soon as possible so they can focus on the players who have already enrolled. Parents want the best situation or most money (in equivalency sports) for their child, so starting early gives them a leg up. Not to mention some recruits do not enjoy the process, and get it over with as soon as possible.
This gives an advantage to a recruit who has a family with means and sophistication to be proactive in the recruiting process. Until a recruit finishes their sophomore year, it is hard (within the rules) for a coach to reach out to them. Coaches can express their interest to high school or club coaches and show up regularly at the prospect’s games. But it is largely up to the prospect to call the coach and potentially visit the campus on their own dime in order to secure a scholarship offer and make a commitment.
To erase this advantage, prospects are turning to parties willing to finance an unofficial visit. That could be the institution paying under the table, the prospect’s coach, a handler, or a family friend. Sometimes it seems the prospect is almost an unwilling or unknowing participant in the visit, not realizing that their road trip with their club team is primarily a tour of schools that may or may not have paid for the opportunity.
The unofficial visit is such a hard problem to solve because both the solutions are unappealing. Deregulate the official visit sufficiently and you drag prospects out of school with alarming regularity and raise the cost of recruiting a great deal. Deregulate who can pay for visits and prospects who cannot afford their own visits are at the mercy of those willing to foot the bill. It might just be one of those rules that we have to live with and that has to give a few schools some lumps before monitoring catches up with the tricks.
The opinions expressed on this blog are the author’s and the author’s alone, and are not endorsed by the NCAA or any NCAA member institution or conference. This blog is not a substitute for a compliance office.