HOOVER, Ala. — The biggest recruiting trip Kevin Sumlin and his staff took last winter did not involve any five-star prospect.
Some sites had once listed the guy as a three-star prospect, others had him as a four-star, but Sumlin’s Texas A&M staff was way past any of that. They knew they were dealing with a sure-fire starter and likely All-American talent.
That’s why the Aggies head coach didn’t do the home visit alone when he went to see the player and his parents about a half hour outside of Dallas. It was Sumlin, A&M O-line coach B.J. Anderson, Aggie associate AD for football Justin Moore and veteran director of football operations Gary Reynolds.
But this pitch was different than any that Sumlin or his staffers would give on any other home visit – and it involved the school paying more than $50,000 to reel their blue-chipper back in.
Their target was Cedric Ogbuehi, A&M’s 6-foot-5, 300-pound offensive tackle, who already had been a three-year starter and was weighing whether he was going to bypass his final season of eligibility to enter the NFL Draft. Ogbuehi had submitted his name to the NFL to get an evaluation on his draft stock, and all four grades the league sent back projected him as a first-rounder.
Ogbuehi, though, was still seen as a developing talent, even more so than his former teammates (and eventual Top 10 picks) Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews were. Ogbuehi had played much of his career at guard and was at right tackle in 2013 while Matthews, a master technician, handled the blindside. Ogbuehi’s athleticism was superior to either of his former star teammates, but he knew he could probably use another season at the college level and perhaps could become a top-five or No. 1 overall pick with an additional year of development.
The A&M staff was unsure what Ogbuehi was going to decide. So many things factored into his process, including the financial implications for his family. There are, of course, some options for top college players to secure insurance policies.
One covers permanent disability from career-ending injuries. The other is loss of value insurance that can come into effect for a player who had been projected at a high level of the draft but then due to injury or illness doesn’t end up actually getting picked around that spot.
Former USC star Marqise Lee, for instance, had a robust loss of value policy and injured his leg in 2013 and wound up falling outside of the first round. Lee now is in line to collect upwards of $5 million based on the difference between his actual signing bonus and the value of this year’s first-round average.
Problem is, many top college athletes still may not have the resources to foot the bill on premiums that could be close to six figures.
Texas A&M, though, had researched a newer NCAA rule that offered them some flexibility, where the school itself could actually pay the difference out of the Student Assistance Fund, which each school has at its disposal to cover things such as the cost of post-eligibility financial aid, or if a student-athlete can’t afford to travel home in cases of emergency, or if they need a suit to wear to university functions or events like SEC Media Days.
It’s not an unlimited pool, and the NCAA creates its yearly limit for all schools so each has to budget where its money goes for that year. According to the SEC office, last year each of its members allotted $350,000 for the fund.
Moore, the associate AD for football, told FOX Sports that the school didn’t know it could tap into that fund until this year to help with the loss-of-value insurance policy for a case like Ogbuehi’s. "I don’t think many schools know about it," Moore said Tuesday. "It’s a game-changer."
It was for Ogbuehi — although the Aggies staff had to explain all that to him and his parents. The tab on Ogbuehi could reach $60,000 for Texas A&M, which is a big chunk of the fund; it’s also money the player said his parents probably couldn’t have paid on their own.
"That’s a lot of money," said Ogbuehi, whose parents have a small business teaching people how to become nurses aids. "This really helped with my decision. It opened up a lot of doors to staying.
"It’s a great re-assurance knowing that (coming back for one more season) is not as big of a risk-reward — just more of a reward hopefully next year."
Asked if he would’ve still come back to A&M for the 2014 season without the school being able to pick up the tab on the insurance policy, Ogbuehi paused for a few seconds before shaking his head, "No, I don’t think so."
Moore said this option will be good for the kids but adds, “It will provide new challenges for the school.”
One of those new challenges might be that freshmen not eligible for the draft could ask the school to pay for insurance policies. Moore said it’s going to be on the schools to determine how they want to spend their money.
Brad Barnes, Texas A&M’s assistant director of compliance, said, “The criteria for which players can get insured varies based on the underwriter and the insurer.”
Asked if he sees a scenario where blue-chip recruits might seek schools to pay their insurance as part of their recruitment, Barnes conceded, “Could that become a part of recruiting? Hypothetically, yes it could.”