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Eligibility Waiver, Lack of Visits Complicating Class of 2021 Recruitment

Eligibility Waiver, Lack of Visits Complicating Class of 2021 Recruitment

Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi landed another gem from Western Pennsylvania when he added Baldwin defensive tackle Dorien Ford to his already impressive class of recruits.

Pitt’s 2021 Class of 20 players is now ranked No. 24 in the country by Rivals and No. 31 by 247 Sports.

That’s already more players than Pitt landed a year ago, with a 15-player Class of 2020. How many more will Pitt take in this upcoming class?

It’s a bit harder to figure out. Pitt has 21 seniors on scholarship at this point. Figure in the usual couple of transfers and other early departures and a 25-man class would seem pretty reasonable under normal conditions.

Of course, conditions are anything but normal. With the NCAA extending a blanket waiver to all players for eligibility following the 2020 season, all of Pitt’s seniors could theoretically return to the program.

Pitt will be able to exceed the scholarship limit by the number of seniors that decide to return, meaning that if say, offensive linemen Jimmy Morrissey, Bryce Hargrove and Keldrick Wilson all return, Pitt will get three extra scholarships. And if wide receivers Taysir Mack, Tre Tipton and DJ Turner were to return, Pitt would also get three additional scholarships, but have vastly different needs going into 2021.

Head coach Pat Narduzzi hasn’t tackled that problem just yet. He wants to wait until after the season to try to get a better sense of which of his players are planning on returning. But with signing day only a month and a half after the ACC Championship Game, that’s a pretty narrow target. At least, as he likes to say, the hay is in the barn with 20 recruits committed already.

“Whoever stays is a bonus,” Narduzzi said Thursday. “Whoever leaves us, we were expecting top leave, we brought a new guy in to take his scholarship. So that’s what it comes back to. I mean, when you look at it, Jimmy Morrissey and Kenny Pickett could have another year. Wouldn’t that be fun? … We don’t know, but we’re still gonna take another quarterback, and we’re going to take an offensive lineman and fill Jimmy’s spot and we’ll move on from there.”

That’s not the tact that all programs are taking. Norwin offensive lineman Anthony Giansante had committed to Western Kentucky over the summer, but found out this week that the Hilltoppers have decided not to take any freshmen offensive linemen in this class.

The waiver creating difficult needs evaluation actually isn’t even the thing that Narduzzi is worried about the most when it comes to recruiting. He wants to get his potential 2021 commits on campus for a visit before they sign in December.

“I still don’t know why the NCAA made that decision so quickly,” he said. “I mean, it’s September. We’re already making a decision for it to be dead in October, November and December. They’ve kind of done it month by month, all of a sudden, they just took the whole fall and really shut it down.

“I feel bad for our kids. I feel bad for all those recruits out there. I feel bad for everybody. The one rule is they can still come on campus, but they have to purchase a ticket, if there’s fans in the stands. So that’s the one thing they did. But you know, to me, why not? Let’s just give the kids a ticket. Why do we have to make them pay for it? Some kids can’t pay for a ticket. So I still don’t understand why that happened.”

Of course, Pitt has not had fans in the stands — something Narduzzi also hopes changes — but either way, he wants to get to show his recruits their future city. Many recruits have told Pittsburgh Sports Now that they don’t want to commit before visiting schools, something that might be impossible as things stand right now.

“They’d like to see us, they’d like to see the city of Pittsburgh, they’d like to see Oakland and what we have to offer,” he said. “But we’d also like to see them and have that relationship. That’s hard to build over a Zoom call or FaceTime or just a regular old telephone call. It’s tough. It’s tough on everybody. But it’s 2020.”

As with everything else happening this season, players and coaches will just have to find a way to adjust.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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