Arkansas coach Bret Bielema recently proved he’s a man of his word on the recruiting trail.
Last month, while still committed to the Razorbacks, 2018 tight end Luke Ford called Bielema expressing his desire to visit other schools. It was a reasonable request from Ford, who had only visited Arkansas and Illinois before pledging to the Hogs in March.
Bielema, according to Ford’s account of the conversation, was understanding. But the coach did not waver on his no-visit policy, which prevents players who have committed from taking visits elsewhere. If a commit visits another school, Bielema and his staff consider that scholarship spot re-opened.
So, Ford was forced to de-commit as he was set on taking trips to see several other programs. If not for Bielema sticking to his rule, Ford has since said he likely would still be committed to Arkansas.
The decision proves Bielema won’t be making any exceptions to the policy based on talent or star rating. Ford is a 4-star prospect and the No. 91 overall recruit in the 2018 class according to 247Sports’ composite rankings. He was, by a comfortable margin, the highest-rated pledge to the Hogs just prior to his de-commitment.
Many have wondered: Why not just let Ford take other visits as long as he’s still firm with the Hogs?
“We have a very, very detailed conversation about, if you’re gonna commit, this means we’re done. You’re not gonna go look at anybody else,” Bielema said last fall. “It’s kind of like you’re getting engaged. We’re not married yet; that happens in February. But you’re not going out on any other dates. You’re not gonna go have a cup of coffee with anybody else. You’re gonna stay with what we are.
“I basically just think that in our program, you have to have an allegiance to [us].”
Those words have been proven sincere, though there’s more to it than that. Bielema also doesn’t want Arkansas to be left high and dry with a scholarship spot open late in the process. Let a recruit stay committed while visiting other schools, and the risk of losing them too late to find an adequate replacement is significantly elevated.
The no-visit policy also came up last fall when running back commit Chase Hayden reportedly made plans to make an official visit to Michigan. Rather than make the trip and give up his spot in the Arkansas class, Hayden canceled on the Wolverines.
Also in the 2017 class, Bielema showed a willingness to make exceptions for special circumstances. Tight end signee Jeremy Patton officially visited Utah and Southern Cal in the fall of 2016 after he’d committed to the Hogs the previous summer.
The exception with Patton surely was seen by some as a result of him being a 4-star prospect and the No. 1 junior college tight end recruit in the country. Bielema’s decision with Ford seems to dispel that notion. It adds more legitimacy to the idea he was letting Patton and his family take some free trips. Unlike unofficial visits, official visits are paid for by the school.
“Sometimes when those issues arise, I’ll make an exception,” Bielema said. “Some of them, I’ll make an exception before they commit. Especially now that parents get to travel. They say, ‘Hey, I wanna take this visit, my parents don’t get to travel.’ So, there are some exceptions I’ve made, but for the most part, yeah, we say once you’re in, you’re in.”
In a recruiting world that can all too often easily be filled with deception, Bielema provides transparency with this approach. You’re either with the Razorbacks or you’re not.
If a recruit can’t verbally commit without wanting to consider other possibilities, that’s fine. Just don’t pledge to the Hogs. And if a pledge changes his mind at some point following the commitment (because teenagers are deservedly allowed such liberties), then a de-commitment must be in order.
Recruits who come through Bielema’s office know this. More importantly, they now know he means what he says regardless of how highly ranked a player may be.