National opinion: Could Roquan Smith be a trendsetter for elite prospects?

LB Roquan Smith (AJC/Michael Carvell)

LB Roquan Smith (AJC/Michael Carvell)

Could Roquan Smith be a trendsetter for elite football prospects?

Smith is the 4-star senior linebacker from Macon County High School who famously decided against signing a national letter of intent because he was nearly burned by UCLA on signing day. Smith has instead committed to UGA and will officially be a recruit of the Bulldogs when he enrolls in classes this summer.

Smith is believed to be the first elite prospect in football to bypass the NLI on signing day or after it. Smith’s deal surely caught the attention of college coaches from across the country.

Could Roquan Smith be a trendsetter for elite football prospects?

Steve Spurrier (SEC)

Steve Spurrier (SEC)

South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier: “Well, it could be a trend. Yes, it could be. It certainly could be a trend. I guess we’ll worry about it when it starts happening more, if it does.”

USC’s Steve Sarkisian: “I think this thing could start to get some legs. Obviously, that recruit (Smith) wasn’t the only scenario that we saw. There were some other ones on signing day where there were some uneasy waters about coaches potentially going to the NFL and different things. I think to some degree for the players, this (not signing an NLI) is a way to protect themselves. It’s put them in a precarious situation, too, because technically everybody can still recruit those kids. They (the colleges) can still make those calls, and they can still reach out to them, while the recruit can still take unofficial visits to other people’s campuses. If they want that, then there’s an avenue for them. But it is a slippery slope. A university could say ‘Hey, I’m sorry, we went in a different direction.’ And now the kid could say ‘Hey, what am I doing now?’ So it’s a unique deal. Every year there are new things that come up. The NCAA and the conferences are going to have to look and see what is best. Because ultimately when you make an agreement, it should be between two parties that understand the agreement, want to be together, and held accountable to each other. It shouldn’t be a one-way street, in my opinion.”

Florida’s Jim McElwain: “I tell you, I’m glad it wasn’t me involved in that one. You know, the recruiting over time has become darn near as a big as the game. As the stakes continue to rise, it’s going to be one of the things that will continue to go (in different directions).”

LSU's Les Miles

LSU’s Les Miles

LSU’s Les Miles: “It’s wonderful that the guy feels comfortable enough with his position in recruiting that everybody would take him. (Let’s say) suddenly a change took place and he couldn’t go to UGA. In other words, let’s say UGA signed its 25, and now this young man wants to go to LSU, but LSU signed its 25. Suddenly there’s a guy who is not signed but not capable of going to a school he wants to go to. There’s a risk-reward, in my mind, for the guy who does not sign … Here’s the thing: Once you find the school you want to go to, it’s like ‘Oh, my gosh, don’t you want to sign your papers? Don’t you want your deal?’ I guess what I’m trying to say is if I told my wife, ‘I want to marry you. You are my girl. But I’m not going to get married. We’re just going to have kids, live together, and this thing is going to work out.’ If I said that, my wife may have well sent me down the road. The point being is that the very special prospect that the schools wait on … let’s just say another very special prospect shows up and says ‘Hey, if you have a grant-in-aid available, I’d love to take it.’ And so among both very special prospects, there’s only on scholarship available. So the college says to the first guy, ‘You didn’t sign. We’re fine with this. We’ll take the other guy.’ Now (the first guy who is committed but doesn’t have a spot anymore) says ‘I’m going to open recruiting again.’ If you have the school that you want, I can’t imagine that someone wouldn’t want to say, ‘That’s the school I want. They want me. I want to commit to that.’ That to me is the right thing. I don’t think (a situation like Roquan Smith) should be a game-changer. I think it’s a position of insecurity. At some point in time, a school may say no matter how big-time an athlete is, they may tell him that they used that scholarship. So now what? ‘We sent out 25 scholarships, and all 25 guys signed it. We’re full.’ (If I’m a recruit) I don’t think I would want to take a chance of losing my spot. I wouldn’t want to do business that way.”

Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze: “Now the more we put an emphasis on this type of situation, it’s only going to grow … I do think that trend will continue with the way things are set up.”

Arkansas’ Bret Bielema: “Yes, I think it (could be a trend). The thing that scares me about (signing only the financial-aid papers) is that any other school can go after him at any given time. I don’t know how comfortable that a college will be with that, especially if it backfires on them.”

Dabo Swinney

Dabo Swinney

Clemson’s Dabo Swinney: “I have no idea if that could be a trend … But I do think that guys in that situation (like Roquan Smith), and I don’t know all the details, to each his own. All I know is at Clemson University we’re going to offer scholarships every year to some great young men and give them a great opportunity to play at the highest level and a great education. I don’t think there’s going to be a shortage of guys who want to be a part of that. Whether they sign an NLI or not, I don’t know. We won’t have a shortage of guys who want to come to Clemson, that’s for sure.”

Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops: “You know, I don’t know. It’s hard to say where that will go. I could see where some players may want to do that. It’s hard to tell how popular that will be.”

Mike GundyOklahoma State’s Mike Gundy: “I think it could be a trend. Our game is changing. I’ve used the term in the last few months that essentially college football at your big schools in the Power Five conferences — it has turned into the NFL. There’s just an unbelievable amount of the money with the television contracts with the conferences. The coaches – all of us are way overpaid. But it’s all set up on market value and supply and demand. And the time that we live in now with the cost of living and the potential gaming rights, it is all changing considerably. And I’m not sure that really anybody really has a grasp with what direction it’s going to go. It’s going to be interesting over the next few years when they try to weed through all these different ways with people signing and not signing, and the different variables that have evolved with the amount of money involved in the game. So I’m not sure I have those answers. But I know there are going to be some changes coming (in how recruiting works).”

Miami’s Al Golden: “I don’t know what to make of that. The chances of that head coaches leaving this time of year … that’s interesting. I’m sorry, I don’t have an opinion on that one. I’ve got to study that more. If the kid did get hurt or got in an accident, he would be covered (if he signed the letter of intent). That’s interesting.”

Tennessee’s Butch Jones: “I really haven’t dove much into that conversation. I’ve just been so focused on getting our football team ready for the season and recruiting, I haven’t really given that much thought at this particular time.”

Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson (AJC)

Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson (AJC)

Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson: “I don’t see that going anywhere. I don’t think anybody is going to allow that. They (colleges) are going to tell kids that if they don’t want to sign their NLI then I’m going to the next kid. It would be chaos. It would be crazy. There would be no signing thing. It would just be nonstop year-round … Some of the stories that I followed with the financial aid, there’s a lot of misinformation out there anyways. Because once you go to that school, you’re still bound to that school. You get around to the same rules as everybody else. What it does is make the recruiting process go longer, just like the academies (such as Army and Navy). They have that at the academies, and it’s ridiculous. You recruit all summer. The academies are different because they don’t have a set number of scholarships. You’re not trying to hit a target number. If you’re trying to hit 85, it would be chaos. Because nobody would have an idea of who is going where until school started. Guys would sign two or three different financial-aid agreements. You wouldn’t know if they were going to enroll here or there. You’d be disingenuous waiting on them. That would be chaos.”

UGA’s Mark Richt: “Well, hmmm … (long pause). I guess it’s new. But the main thing was that I was happy he signed his scholarship with Georgia.” But does Richt think it could be a trend? “Um, I don’t know … It remains to be seen.”


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