College recruitment hurdles over pandemic impediments

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Photo by Patrick Goodman.

With college campuses shut down all over the nation due to COVID-19, NCAA athletics programs are being forced to change recruiting protocol for their 2020-2021 seasons. 

As campus visits are suspended and athletic programs are shut down, coaches and recruiters have no way to introduce prospective recruits to their teams or the campuses themselves. Additionally, rising seniors in high school are watching as their 2020 summer season, one of the most important recruiting times in college sports, crumbles before them as scouting tournaments and vital training camps are pushed back and canceled. 

Will McKinney, a junior swimmer at Jesuit Preparatory School of Dallas, has been working to earn a spot on a college team. With no access to a regulation-sized training pool because of the COVID-19 outbreak, McKinney expressed frustration in an interview: “Right around the summer, they [college swim teams] have cutoffs for the top recruits. I can’t improve my times because of quarantine, what am I supposed to do?” 

McKinney reports he has stayed in contact with his college recruiters via phone, but he was discontent with being unable to physically visit the college campuses, as the dynamic of the campus and the team heavily influences his commitment decisions. 

Despite the circumstances, McKinney is determined to maintain his current times, working out for two hours a day in his neighbor’s backyard pool which is barely half the length of a regulation-sized pool.

“I have huge goals I want to hit. I want to train.”

It is not just the athletes who have to work against the current recruitment impediments. McKinney’s fighting spirit mirrors the attitude of NCAA recruiters as they work to meet their prospective athletes’ needs. 

According to their website, the NCAA extended the “dead period” of recruiting to May 31. This period prohibits all in-person meetings between coaches and recruits, on or off campus. Phone calls, emails and texts are allowed between recruits and coaches,  permitting schools to maintain a rigorous recruitment effort. Meanwhile, recruiters all around the nation are coming up with dynamic solutions to alleviate high school athletes’ fears. 

The University of Dallas’ Recruiting Coordinator, Matt Grahn, said in an email, “The message I’ve been sending [to recruits] is one that recognizes the situation and also instills confidence that this will pass.” 

He also mentioned the importance of on-campus visits for prospective athletes and provided concrete solutions to this problem, saying, “I’ve shared a video tour with our coaching staff that they can send to recruits. I’ve also designed a daily email virtual tour of campus to be sent over the next few weeks.”  

With a lot of spring sports evaluations canceled, Grahn expressed confidence that UD’s coaches will build up their databases of recruits using “their networks, video, and creativity.” The university is working on moving the athletic program forward despite the nation’s current situation. 

COVID-19 has forced the NCAA athletic community to unite in a unique way to overcome the challenges of this upcoming season. On their social media, NCAA is trending #UnitedAsOne, demonstrating the combined efforts of current and prospective athletes with the coaching and recruiting staff to remain optimistic during this difficult time. The responses of athletes like McKinney and institutions like UD  excellently illustrate the virtues associated with sports: perseverance, adaptability and teamwork.

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