Recruiting and Competition in a Pandemic

Coaches and athletic recruits have gotten creative in response to the recruiting and competitive shutdowns placed on high school and college athletics.

By Brinda Rao

With a June 30 extension to its official recruiting dead period, the NCAA has determined the ongoing face of collegiate athletic recruitment. Although this dead period exclusively applies to Division I programs, it has a clear message for all varsity programs in the country: Recruitment must change in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many upcoming summer clinics and events are already being cancelled or postponed. This leaves athletes and coaches in the uncertain position of taking on the typical recruitment calendar in an atypical manner. 

For UChicago’s Division III programs, these potential cancellations of prospective recruit visits and clinics requires creativity. The NCAA has left Division III recruiting legislation at a similar level to where it was before the pandemic. However, coaches are unable to rely on key summer and spring events to survey potential recruits. Coaches have taken to virtual platforms like Zoom and Facetime to offer interested athletes forums to learn more about their programs.  

The timeline of the pandemic has drastically impacted recruitment cycles at all levels. For many varsity sports, the spring and summer serves as the prime time for coaches to travel and see prospects compete live. Head women’s lacrosse coach Kate Robinson noted, “Typically, June and July are important evaluating months for us and we attend a tournament or showcase every weekend, as well as work/host lacrosse camps and clinics.”  

While virtual platforms offer innovative methods to compensate for cancelled in-person events, ultimately programs are unable to scope prospects in traditional events. Several regional High School Athletic Associations have cancelled recruitment events across sports. Many lacrosse recruiting tournaments, showcases and camps were postponed and cancelled for the summer. Without live performance viewing options, many coaches are turning to highlight reels and home videos from prospective recruits. In addition, coaches are using virtual calls in addendum to regular email communications. Coach Robinson elaborated, “It’s a more personal way to get to know our recruits, give them a sense of our lacrosse program, university and team culture.”  

The NCAA presented a guideline for prospective recruits during this time of official and unofficial dead periods. Many recruits are unable to train in their regular facilities with high school and club programs closed during the pandemic. The NCAA has set out management advice  for recruits including: continuing and starting communications with collegiate coaches, attending virtual events, and maintaining regular workout schedules.  

While the circumstances are anything short of normal, both the NCAA and UChicago athletic officials are responding in decisive and empathetic terms. The NCAA has officially extended fourth-year Division III spring season athletes’ eligibility to compete for a fifth season. Reflecting on her own personal mission for recruitment, Coach Robinson stated, “we are using the time we now have to grow as coaches, as a team, and really get to know our prospective student-athletes. As a staff, we can watch past film, read books, and really develop in certain areas that we typically would not have time for…. We are really trying to be creative and find the silver lining of this abnormal situation.”