Pat Fitzgerald held his annual National Signing Day press conference at Ditka's in Chicago on Wednesday, officially announcing the new class of 20 Wildcats that will be joining the Northwestern football team in 2015. You can learn more about the class of 2015 here and see where they all came from, but here are the five biggest topics from Fitz's press conference.
1. A softening stance on commitments?
Fitzgerald has long held a strong policy against verbally committed players looking into other schools. He sees a verbal commitment as an engagement, and he has said before that he will drop a player's offer if they look around at other schools while committed. However, some questioned that policy last year when highly-regarded recruit Jordan Thomas visited Oklahoma while still technically a Northwestern commit. NU did not drop Thomas' offer, though he ended up signing with the Sooners.
After that, Fitzgerald said that there never was a policy and that they're going to treat every situation differently. This year, NU picked up a few recruits toward the end of the cycle who were committed to other schools, and that drew criticism from some, who thought it was hypocritical to recruit kids who were committed, but not want his commits to look around. Fitzgerald defended his stance:
On recruiting commits, Fitz said: "I have no problem with what we do. I don't think I'm speaking out of both sides of my mouth."— Wildcat Digest (@NU247) February 4, 2015
2. Fitz wants to change the recruiting process
Northwestern has prided itself on not having a lot of decommits in the past, but that has started to change, as the Wildcats lost four commitments this year, to bring the two-year total of decommits to eight. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as it means NU is recruiting players that other big-time programs want, but it's hard on the coaching staff, which can find itself in a bind close to signing day.
Fitz wants to change the whole system and get rid of signing day all together:
Fitz on the recruiting/NLI process: "It's an antiquated system."— Inside NU (@insidenu) February 4, 2015
Fitz wants to change the system to make "scholarship offers more credible." Doesn't like how schools and players can back out.— Inside NU (@insidenu) February 4, 2015
3. Northwestern will (probably) start offering kids money to play football
The Ed O'Bannon case that ended this summer partially took down the NCAA's defense of amateurism and changed the rule that players can receive no compensation from schools in the recruiting process. Pending appeal, the court mandated that the NCAA can no longer cap compensation at $0, and now must set a minimum cap of $5,000 per year to be put in a trust fund for after a player's eligibility ends. As of now, that will start with next year's class.
Schools don't necessarily need to pay this money, but those that don't will obviously be hurt in recruiting. Northwestern has been against "professionalizing" athletes, but it appears the Wildcats will pay up (if an entire class of 20 redshirts, that's $500,000 per class, which is easily within any Big Ten school's budget).
Fitz says he'll offer whatever he can financially tol make the student-athlete experience better. That means $5,000 under O'Bannon ruling.— Inside NU (@insidenu) February 4, 2015
NU will also offer cost of attendance scholarships, and the school has generally been a leader in promoting student-athlete welfare. So the desire to both help athletes and win is no surprise.
4. Who will play right away? Who knows
Fitz probably has some sort of idea of who will be ready right away, but a lot of that also depends on who spends the most time getting ready in the weight room this summer. NU redshirts a lot of players, but Fitz said it's all about physical and emotional readiness.
Fitz says he doesn't decide who redshirts, but the kids do. Says they have to get ready for Big Ten play both "physically and emotionally."— Inside NU (@insidenu) February 4, 2015
My uneducated guess? We see wide receiver/return man Jelani Roberts and possibly another receiver and a defender.
5. Quarterback battle
It can't all be recruiting! Fitz talked at length about the quarterback competition. It looks like senior Zack Oliver, sophomore Matt Alviti and redshirt freshman Clayton Thorson are all on equal footing right now. Our guess is Thorson wins the job.
Fitz on QB situation: "We've got three guys who are going to compete." Says they'll all get equal reps until 1, or 2, separate themselves.— Inside NU (@insidenu) February 4, 2015