IOWA CITY, Ia. — At a time when the Iowa football program can least afford recruiting misses or player attrition, the core of the multi-million dollar business is about to get tougher — and much more expensive.
The NCAA dropped a range of recruiting restrictions late last month that, according to SI.com, could “spur chaos” in college football.
Rules limiting how many times recruiters can call or text players are gone. So are guidelines on mailings to homes. Programs, if they have the money means and choose to leverage them, will be able to add a recruiting coordinator and support staff to what already exists.
All of which leaves teams such as Iowa, which needs to upgrade the product on the field after a four-win season, wondering if it can or will keep pace.
“My fear, in simplistic terms, would be that, I hate to see college football or college athletics become Major League Baseball — with all respect to Major League Baseball,” said Ferentz, who compared the financial disparity between the wealthiest franchises and his hometown Pittsburgh Pirates.
“The Yankees start in the inside lane every year. They have the biggest payroll, so they get to start on the inside lane.”
Gerry DiNardo, the Big Ten Network analyst who coached at Indiana, said Ferentz is right about the hand-wringing administrators will face.
Imagine the pressure, too, at a place like Iowa — where a sizeable chunk of the fan base is wavering in its support-no-matter-what attitude after a 19-19 record over the last three seasons and a six-game losing streak in tow for 2013.
“Strap it on, baby,” said DiNardo, who called the NCAA move “ridiculous.” “They (big-money programs) are going to use the whole ball of wax. Do you hire four or five more people at $200,000 a year? Because that’s what the big programs are going to do.
“No limitations on mailings? C’mon. There’s going to be huge, multi-colored publications. There will be programs that spend millions — millions — on those. They’ll hire someone whose job is just to make brochures.
“Kirk hit it right on the money — watch out for the Yankees.”
Iowa, in a power conference like the Big Ten, surely will be in better position to keep up with the bulky bank accounts than many others. But would the Hawkeyes decide to invest as much money as Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska or Penn State?
In the wake of national signing day, when Iowa finished with a class ranked No.52 in the nation by Rivals.com and 11th out of 12 Big Ten teams by SI.com, is the chase of those players in the middle of the star-ratings pack about to melt the athletic department credit cards?
The NCAA just launched another arm’s race on the already scorched landscape of its most important sport.
“It’s not getting any cheaper, obviously,” Ferentz said.
Analyzing Iowa recruiting under Ferentz can be as tough to tackle as a Rubik’s Cube while nursing a hangover.
Iowa always has been a build-them-on-campus program, as opposed to the 4- and 5-star recruits who parachute into Tuscaloosa, Ala., or Columbus, Ohio, each February — thick enough to blot out the rays of the sun.
College football recruiting, though, is far from science. Many pan out, but plenty of high-buzz players fall short.
Remember offensive lineman Blake Larsen, a 5-star recruit who became the show pony of the Hawkeyes’ 2001 class? Larsen failed to start a game, leaving the program before he completed his eligibility.
Others, like NFL defensive player of the year Bob Sanders, future pro lineman Robert Gallery and Heisman Trophy runner-up Brad Banks, grow leaps and bunches of bounds with barely a whisper of the relative hype.
The tough-talk truth: College football’s signing days usually mean nothing — zip, zero, zilch — in places like Iowa City on the day real ink dries on real paper.
Recruiting services, analysts and fans bark themselves hoarse about 2-star guys versus 3-star guys. Legions act as if they own the most accurate crystal ball and most clear-eyed map of the future. In the end, though, signing day provides questions, as opposed to answers.
This ink-and-paper day feels different, though, doesn’t it?
Following a season that included losses to Indiana and Purdue (combined 5-11 Big Ten record) and Central Michigan — the margin for error on recruiting misses has shrunk for Ferentz and staff.
DiNardo estimated that just 30 percent of the players who signed letters of intent on Wednesday will play significantly during their careers and a staggering 50 percent will bolt from campus before senior seasons arrive.
Iowa has seen more than its share of helmet attrition in well-documented ways.
“It’s hard to develop, it’s hard to maximize your potential if you’re not here for the whole four or five years,” Ferentz said.
Now, a new hurdle looms for programs such as Iowa, which are trying to dig out from an underwhelming stretch.
“The new rules are going to ruin coaches’ lives and student-athletes’ lives (unlimited calls, texts and contact), but it makes it easier for the NCAA’s lives,” DiNardo said. “Makes sense, huh?”
Earning a seat at the top poker table is about to get more expensive, too.
“Iowa and everyone else is trying to keep up with facilities money at the same time,” DiNardo said. “That (old and replaced practice facility) bubble was ridiculous. They’ve got to improve facilities when a kid visits. I think the world of Kirk Ferentz as a coach and person and would love if my son played for him.
“But facilities make a difference to a kid. And now, the NCAA rules mean you could be spending more money on recruiting.”
The mandate for Iowa is to return to bowl eligibility and contend for the Big Ten’s conference title again.
The question used to be: Can Iowa climb the mountain again?
Maybe it should be: Will they write the check to do it?
Bryce Miller can be reached at 515-284-8288 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @Bryce_A_Miller
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football