Athletic Recruiting Trends
Written by Lisa Bleich
I attended the NJ Association for College Admissions Counseling at the beginning of June where I had the opportunity to hear Jeffrey Durso-Finley and Holly Burks Becker, Co-Directors of College Counseling for Lawrenceville School speak on trends in athletic recruiting. The key trends include:
- Rise in specialization. Three sport athletes are becoming a thing of the past as more and more students specialize in one sport.
- Increase in travel and club teams. These teams have taken on a more significant role in athletics and athletic recruiting.
- Changing deadlines for recruitment. We have also seen the athletic recruiting cycle change for certain sports (namely girls DI lacrosse!) over the past several years.
For any student considering playing a sport in college, it’s important to identify your goals before starting the process (keeping in mind that your goals often change as the process plays out!)
- Play Division I at the highest level. And this can mean highest level of sport as well as highest level of academics, e.g. Ivies.
- Play Division I at any level. Even if the college is not the best match otherwise.
- Receive scholarship aid. Even though DI schools offer athletic scholarships, not every DI athlete is offered scholarship money the first year or any year. How will receiving or not receiving money factor into your decision? Division III schools do not offer athletic aid, but playing a sport could improve your chances of acceptance and in some cases, merit aid.
- Improve your college options. There is no doubt that a talented athlete can use his or her sport to improve chances of acceptance. If this is your goal, then it is important to identify schools that match on all fronts.
Students’ goals often change as they receive feedback from coaches and have a better sense of their true eligibility. So it is important to keep an open mind and keep reevaluating your goals.
It is also critical to understand the difference among the divisions.
- Division I Athlete first, student second and often comes with athletic scholarship. Questions to ask yourself:
- Do you want highly selective DI schools only?
- Do you need a recruited/guaranteed spot?
- Will you be open to a walk on? What are the risks?
- Do you have regional preferences?
- Are you willing to drop DI possibilities if the coaches’ interest wanes?
- Could you play club sport instead?
- Division II. In between DI and DIII, offers money and rigorous athletic expectations, but not typically as strong a team or academic school.
- Division III Student first, athlete second, but the rigor of both varies widely depending on school.
- Do you have a particular conference that you want to target?
- How does the schools match up with your academic interests? Social fit?
- Would you still like the school if you could not play the sport?
The more restrictions that you place on yourself, the harder it will be to find a match!
Even with an accelerated recruitment cycle for several sports, there are still four distinct stages of recruitment including:
- Identification. This is done through the high school or club coach, letters of introduction, newspaper articles, summer athletic camps and the online questionnaires filled out by students.
- Evaluation. This stage starts with the first contact! Until you have received contact from a coach, you are not under evaluation and it is important to manage all communication with the coach. This will include:
- Request for scores or transcripts (For Ivies they will want to know your Academic Index). Click here to calculate yours.
- Game/skills tapes (or links to video)
- Camp evaluation
- Game evaluation
- Statistical performance (for sports like running and swimming)
- Recruitment. This is between the coach and the student! The communication between these two parties is the most important part of the recruitment process. While the NCAA still has a DI contact date of July 1 before senior year, this is largely circumvented. This stage includes:
- Written contact via e-mail or text
- Phone contact (whereby the coach lets it be known that he/she will be in his office at a certain day and time and the student can reach out).
- School visits and home visits (although decreasing in relevance except for certain DI football schools)
- Request for official or unofficial transcript and scores.* (This is the best sign that you are being recruited!)
- Commitment. This is the official closing from the athletic side, but keep in mind, the student also has to be vetted and accepted from an admissions side. At DI schools where there is selectivity beyond DI eligibility, it is critical that admissions signs off and that the student’s application is accepted! Some schools that fall into this category or the Ivies, Stanford, Boston College, Georgetown, and University of Notre Dame. Commitment can happen in the following ways:
- At the end of the official visit
- At the national letter of intent day
- For Ivies, students will receive a likely letter, usually around October 1. They will also apply ED.
- For DIII athletes, students will commit to the coach with a verbal agreement and be asked to apply early decision. At this point admissions has reviewed the student’s transcript and test scores and has accepted the students academically and the coach is supporting the application.
Durso-Finley and Burks Becker also caution students to listen carefully to what coaches are saying and try to decipher coach speak! Below are some common “coachisms” that students often misinterpret as support, when in reality they are just ways to keep student dangling without anything concrete.
“We would love to have you on our team.”
“You should apply early decision.”
“There are people in front of you, but you’re on my list.”
“I’ll send a note to admissions to support you.”
“Admissions says you are fine.”
If you are uncertain about where you stand with a coach, just ask! If you are direct with the coach, you can find out when and if to drop a school from your list.
It is also important to keep up your academics, even after you have been recruited.