Shemar Stewart might as well be the best player college football never saw, though not because he hasn't been noticed. Stewart is the No. 5 player in the Class of 2022, according to the 247Sports Composite, ranked No. 1 both at his position of defensive end and in the state of Florida.
The 6-foot-6, 265-pound edge rusher from Monsignor Pace High School in Opa Locka, Florida, is wanted by everyone. Unfortunately, he's been seen by almost no one.
"An edge monster," Monsignor Pace High School coach Mario Perez called Stewart. "There isn't a school that is not interested."
The problem, three months removed from his junior season, is significant for those so vitally interested in recruiting Stewart. They have yet to meet him in person. That piece of human interaction has been prohibited by the NCAA until at least May 31.
Because of COVID-19, the so-called "dead period" is in its 13th straight month. During a recruiting dead period, schools in all sports have not been allowed to host recruits nor visit them at their homes or schools. The NCAA first implemented a dead period on March 13, 2020, the day after the NCAA Tournament was canceled. The NCAA Council has extended it eight times.
That's meant a different type of isolation. The lack of an in-person evaluation aspect of recruiting has given rise to the Zoom culture -- for better or worse.
"You're telling me we can't have any interaction? Zero?" Perez asked. "That's extreme."
It may be about to end.
The NCAA Football Oversight Committee will recommend this week that the dead period transition to a "quiet period" on June 1, CBS Sports has learned. During a quiet period, college football programs can host recruits on campus and conduct camps.
If the NCAA Council approves the measure at its Wednesday meeting, there will be a sense of liberation. You may have been cooped up in your house; football recruiting this past year has been reduced to the screen size of your laptop.
By June 1, face-to-face recruiting will have been prohibited for 14 ½ months. Declining infection rates and the development of vaccines have led to this welcome reconsideration.
"We want the council to make that decision sooner rather than later so institutions will know what to plan for," said Buffalo athletic director Mark Alnutt, a member of the oversight committee.
A high-ranking NCAA Council member told CBS Sports it "seems pretty likely we will end the dead period in June if virus cases continue to decline." As we've learned, the coronavirus dictates things.
In a regular year, staffs would be preparing for the evaluation period on the recruiting calendar, a time when coaches can go on the road and meet with prospects. For juniors, that period lasts from April 15 to May 31. Stewart and thousands like him are scheduled to continue spending that period in Zoom limbo.
"A kid like Shemar … you're asking him to make a decision for the next 3-4 years of his life. He's never going to see a campus except for [perhaps] Miami because it's in his backyard," Perez said. "He can go anywhere [to play], but you can't have any connection with the athletic department."
That is evidence of some of the frustration resulting from the shutdown. The isolation may also have changed recruiting forever. Some say for the better.
"I don't know if 'frustration' is the appropriate word," Alnutt said. "Just in this past year, the virtual recruiting space has served as an advantage for some programs to be able to be creative in how you recruit kids. As I see it going forward with the recruiting calendar, is there a need to be on the road as much as it was in the past? Give some of those coaches some sort of life outside of game planning."
Until then, recruiting will continue to be the full-bore, cutthroat business it has always been. There is already anecdotal talk of schools planning on-campus visits and camps. Schools can't fully commit, though, until the council gives the go-ahead. Both sides are so eager to see each other again that coaches have been warned not to break NCAA rules by allowing recruits to see them during unofficial campus visits. Not that there have been many of those.
Unofficial visits are taken at the expense of the recruit's family. During COVID-19, that meant a prospect couldn't even meet with academic support, much less a coaching staff.
A favorable decision would be sweet relief for Stewart, who the 247Sports Crystal Ball currently projects to be leaning toward LSU. That sense of anticipation includes Perez, who says he has nine Division I prospects on his roster.
"If [recruiters] can't come watch spring practice and we can't go to their campus and there are no campus visits, the NCAA is getting this wrong," Perez said.
This tipping point in the recruiting process was anticipated. Almost from the time of the March 2020 shutdown, coaches said the Class of 2021 would be impacted. With the Class of 2022 -- juniors entering into their senior years of high school -- in-person contact has been non-existent.
Add to that the lack of actual games. Monsignor Pace played only six games last season because of COVID-19 protocols in Florida.
In recruiting the 2022 class, "a lot of it is sight unseen," said Auburn coach Bryan Harsin.
What no one knows is which way the NCAA Council is leaning. This is one of two huge decisions it will make this spring.
Next month, the council is likely to approve the one-time transfer rule that several coaches have labeled "free agency." That may be true, but there isn't a coach alive who isn't already massaging the transfer portal like it is a waiver wire.
The U.S. Justice Department is currently considering antitrust aspects of transfer rules before the NCAA makes a move.
The NCAA Council is a 40-person body responsible for day-to-day NCAA legislative and policy decision-making. It has a representative from each of the 32 Division I conferences. Voting is weighted toward the 10 FBS conferences, and within that, the Power Five (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC).
If the FBS conferences vote as a group, they control 56.3% of the voting points. However, the Power Five cannot decide the issue on its own. Those conferences control only 37.5% of the total vote.
For recruits and coaches, June 1 can't get here fast enough.
"I do think that's how it's going to land. but it's hard to tell," said a member of the oversight committee who did not wish to be identified. "I've heard of an interest to get back out on the road because of relationships. It's not just that … everybody wants to get their relationships back up and running. There is more support from coaches to get back to normal than I expected there would be."
A return to normal is loaded with issues. There no doubt will be schools that favor an extension of the dead period because their campuses still aren't open. As with everything college football, it comes down to recruiting. Specifically, who can possibly get a competitive advantage out of all this if some schools can host recruits and some cannot.
"Do you have to wait until the last campus is open until you say it's for everybody?" the committee member asked. "How do you manage that? That's the tricky part."
When the dead period was extended to May 31, Texas A&M AD Ross Bjork immediately tweeted: "This is very disappointing. We've made many advancements in protocols … to safely host families & prospects. … If we don't have a clear plan by June 1 we are doing many people a disservice. It's time.
Bjork did not want to comment further after being contacted by CBS Sports.
"By June who knows what it's going to look like," said the committee member. "All indications are the world may feel normal in June. You can always back off. But you have to at least allow people start preparing right now."