From improving athletic performance to imparting life lessons, coaches prepare young athletes for success in multiple aspects of life. One aspect is college recruitment. As athletes become college-ready, coaches are responsible for guiding them through the recruitment process and protecting their best interests. College recruiting guidelines are regulated by the NCAA, but coaches are the strongest line of defense against any unsavory recruitment practices.
Recruiting is the process in which a college representative or coach asks a student-athlete to join their team. They can recruit in person, over the phone, or by mail within specified academic timeframes. These limitations, decided by the NCAA, are meant to protect prospects from unnecessary intrusions into their daily life. Coaches pursue student-athletes who would mesh well with their program, and will use incentives to secure a commitment. For example, coaches can offer high school student-athletes and their parents/guardians up to five official expense-free visits to experience their campus firsthand, but only during their senior year.
Coaches who successfully participate in the recruiting process know the terms, schedule, and restrictions. Furthermore, they use their knowledge and previous experience to assist student-athletes find the best option.
Important Recruiting Terms
Coaches need to be familiar with at least three frequently used recruiting terms: contact, evaluation, and verbal commitment. These terms are used to describe interactions and delineate commitment levels for the student-athlete’s protection. Without an understanding of their definitions, it would be difficult to have a working knowledge of the NCAA recruiting guidelines.
When a college coach engages a student-athlete or their parents/guardians with more than an in-person greeting away from the college campus, a contact has been made. Each sport has a designated period in which contact is allowed so college coaches can personally meet with prospective student-athletes. It is regulated to ensure appropriate levels of influence over a student-athlete’s decision.
It is considered an evaluation when a college coach watches a student-athlete practice or compete in person. Similar to contact, evaluations are limited to certain annual periods for the student-athlete’s well-being. Although it may seem harmless, engaging in contact or evaluation outside of the appropriate timeframes will be investigated and punished by the NCAA. The rules protect student-athletes from unnecessary pressure felt while being observed or discussing the future.
A verbal commitment is a non-binding agreement made between a college and student-athlete. In addition to communication and evaluation policies, the NCAA regulates commitment procedures to avoid any confusion. It’s imperative that coaches understand a verbal commitment is not enforceable, but simply an affirmation between two parties. Until a National Letter of Intent is signed, the college or student-athlete may rescind their verbal commitment.
Importance of the National Letter of Intent
A National Letter of Intent (NLI) is an official document signed by a student-athlete confirming their commitment to a Division I or II college. The commitment is for one academic year and signifies the college’s willingness to provide financial aid for said year. Most importantly, an NLI concludes the recruiting process for that student-athlete. Once it is signed, competing colleges are prohibited from further pursuits. A student-athlete can ask to be released from an NLI to attend another school, but they may lose one year before they can compete. Although commonly used, an NLI is not mandatory. Its primary function is to secure a commitment, financial aid, and prohibit other college recruitment intrusions.
The Recruiting Calendar
Along with common recruiting terms, coaches need to know the differences between the following time periods: contact period, evaluation period, quiet period, and dead period. Each is defined by how much interaction college coaches and recruiters can have with a student-athlete or their parents/guardians.
Contact periods are when college coaches have the most freedom to engage, observe, and pursue prospects. They can have in-person contact, watch competitions or practices, visit high schools, and communicate via mail, email, or telephone. Each consecutive period adds regulation that inhibits a college coach’s interaction with a student-athlete. The evaluation period is similar to the contact period with the exception of outside engagement. College coaches cannot have contact with a prospect off campus during the evaluation period.
During a quiet period, college coaches can only write, call, or meet on the college campus with student-athletes. Lastly, the most limited timeframe is the dead period, when coaches may only write or call student-athletes, but nothing more. Every sport has a schedule of these periods every coach should be aware of. Successful coaches know when certain interactions are authorized and help student-athletes prepare for each period.
Utilize Every Resource
The recruiting process starts during freshman year of high school, so coaches have to start preparing student-athletes immediately. Through their shared education and experience, student-athletes can decide if athletic recruitment is for them, where they want to look, and how to navigate the process. If a coach stumbles upon a question or concern they’re unfamiliar with, they can visit the NCAA website. It is updated frequently and provides the latest recruiting news and rules for all coaches and student-athletes. College recruiting is an important step in a student-athlete’s life, and they rely on coaches to direct them down the best path.