NCAA Cracks Down on Extravagant and Expensive Photo Shoots

NCAA cracking down
Elite quarterback prospect Jaden Rashada got the star treatment during a visit to the University of Florida, one of numerous schools he visited during the recruiting process. Rashada ultimately committed to Arizona State, and wiped these photos from his social media. | Credit: University of Florida

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has introduced legislation to ban recruiting photo shoots during unofficial visits.

As The Athletic reports, the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) Oversight Committee aims to “prohibit, during a football prospective student-athlete’s unofficial visits, institutional involvement in arranging photographs or photographing the prospective student-athlete and those accompanying the prospect student-athlete.”

The news has been met with celebration and derision, although mostly the former at college campuses across the United States. “Strong reactions and celebratory GIFs poured in from recruiting staffers when this proposed rule change went public,” writes Nicole Auerbach and Max Olson of The Athletic.

“In a world of worrying about everything, it’s one less thing to worry about. I think that’s a big win,” says a director of player personnel from the Big 12 athletic conference.

From an outsider’s perspective, banning certain recruiting visit photos may seem strange. After all, how much time and money are involved in taking someone’s picture when visiting a college campus? As it turns out, a lot, and it only gets more intense each recruiting cycle.

Some student-athletes have been photographed in luxury cars, others have been photographed with exotic animals, and many high schoolers are photographed alongside their family, sometimes even with their parents, for some reason, in full uniform.

Of the proposed rule change, Sports Illustrated’s Oklahoma Sooners fan site, All Sooners, writes, “While this may not seem like a big deal to many, it has a great impact on both recruits and college staffs.”

Extravagant, over-the-top recruiting photos have become a staple of the college football scene. Due to the increasing complexity of the photo shoots, they have become part of the recruiting process, where different schools compete against each other to get a talented high-school athlete to choose their college to play for.

In an NCAA football landscape that has rapidly changed in recent years, the divide between the “haves” and “have-nots” has only gotten larger. Big budget photo shoots serve to separate further the colleges that dedicate staggering sums of money to football programs — sometimes instead of education — from schools that do not have the money available to rent luxury cars, hire animal handlers, and dedicate marketing money to massive productions for every athlete who happens to show up on campus.

It is important to note that the new rules concern “unofficial visits,” which are different than an “official visit” in terms of accessibility and rules. Unofficial visits are incredibly challenging for colleges’ media teams to handle because the number of surprise visits has increased, with many players wanting schools to roll out the proverbial red carpet for them.

“The recruiting photo shoot has escalated to a point that staffers say they never wanted, becoming a huge burden for recruiting and creative teams. Two associate athletic directors said it’s such a pressing issue in football because of the high volume of unofficial visits — there are more than 200 days in the 2022-23 FBS recruiting calendar on which programs can host unofficial visits — but that it’s also something recruits in all sports now expect. It’s a drain across the athletic department,” The Athletic writes.

In a survey of more than 100 recruitment staffers at last year’s annual Personnel and Recruiting Symposium, 78 percent of respondents wanted to allow photo shoots only during official visits, which are more heavily regulated than unofficial visits. It seems that the issue is not with photo shoots at large, as only two percent of people voted to eliminate photo shoots entirely.

“I just think the time and energy we’re asking of our equipment staff and our creative teams is astronomical and almost insanity,” says Ohio State associate athletic director for player personnel and general manager Mark Pantoni. Ohio State spends about $226 million annually on athletics programs.

Time and energy are one thing — there is also straight-up cost. “Photo shoots, man, that’s the most important thing on these visits. They’re a big, big deal,” said Director of football recruiting Todd Bradford from Oklahoma State. The school brought in a horse, bought many pairs of cleats, and rented a Rolls-Royce for a photo shoot for recruiting photos.

Malik “Fig” James visits college campuses each year with a seven-on-seven team, Premium, a marketing team focused on young athletes. He told The Athletic that photo shoots play a “really pivotal role in recruiting. [If] you’ve got some crappy (photos), that’s less edits, and less edits means less posts, and less posts mean less interactions with fans.”

The desire for unique recruiting photos has turned what used to be a simple task for someone on a college’s staff into a full-time job, and now it is a full-blown department at big-time college football programs. “If you don’t have a department now, you’re outgunned,” said a recruiting coordinator from one of the “Power 5” college programs.

One football recruit’s father pointed out that enormous productions for photo shoots show a player that “they’re wanted,” which highlights how vital photo shoots are to some students.

Players want to feel special, and a way to make someone feel important is to spend a ton of money on them. Luxury cars, expensive clothes, and complex photographic equipment are all part of the game.

“Thank God I’m not in college football anymore,” remarked Chanelle Smith-Walker last year. “When it comes to the amount of manpower you [need] to execute a lot of the stuff that the coaches are asking for, you already don’t have the manpower to do.” Smith-Walker is the official photographer for the Carolina Panthers, an NFL team. She used to lead creative and content departments at North Carolina State and Tennessee.

The proposed rule change is working through the NCAA’s legislative system and is expected to be approved. If adopted, the new rules will go into effect next March.