In-person recruiting is back. As new COVID-19 cases decrease, what will recruiting look like in the future?
“Coaches have learned how to work smarter during the pandemic and have achieved greater work/life balance. We prefer not to go back to business as usual.”
Welcome back to Out of Bounds, a free, weekly newsletter about college athletics. Feedback, tips and story ideas are always welcome at andrew [dot] wittry [at] gmail [dot] com or you can connect with me on Twitter.
Tuesday, June 1 marked the return to all regular NCAA recruiting calendars, after Division I had been in a recruiting dead period since March 13, 2020, which put a halt to all in-person recruiting and saw the NCAA Division I Council Coordination Committee advise DI schools to suspend official and unofficial visits. Florida State celebrated the return of the regular recruiting calendar by opening the doors to its football facility at 12 a.m. ET to welcome recruits on campus as soon as possible.
However, the notion of the “regular” recruiting calendar could potentially change in the future, depending on the division, sport and institution, as coaches who were prevented from hitting the recruiting trail for more than 14 months could potentially rethink the way the recruiting calendar is scheduled and regulated going forward.
WBCA working group proposed eliminating in-person, home visits and cutting recruiting days by nearly 50 percent
In a slideshow dated May 4, 2021, which was obtained by Out of Bounds, the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) outlined a proposal for modifications to women’s basketball recruiting regulations and the sport’s recruiting calendar, which, if passed, would eliminate in-person, home visits and reduce the number of recruiting days by nearly 50 percent in order to provide coaches with more time on campus.
Health and safety was cited as part of the rationale for the proposal, as coaches wouldn’t know if high school athletes or their family members are vaccinated, nor is there a way to ensure that high school athletes and their families know if every coach they would let in their homes is vaccinated.
“Virtual home visits proved successful,” read one slide in the proposal. “We propose they be permanent.”
In-person, home visits would be replaced with virtual home visits, which became the norm during the pandemic. Off-campus contact with high school recruits would only be allowed after the athlete has signed her National Letter of Intent (NLI).
The WBCA, Toledo head coach Tricia Cullop, who’s the president of the WBCA, and UCLA head coach Cori Close, who’s the WBCA vice president and president-elect, did not respond to interview requests.
Under the proposal, the number of recruiting days/evaluations allowed would decrease from 112 to 60 since in-person, home visits would no longer exist. Non-scholastic evaluation periods from April through July wouldn’t count against the 60 recruiting person days and a school wouldn’t be able to spend more than four recruiting evaluations on a single high school recruit.
Coaching staffs would be allowed 10 calendar days in the summer to recruit internationally, which wouldn’t count against the 60 days, but no more than two coaches would be allowed to recruit internationally during any one of those 10 days.
Under the proposed changes to recruiting regulations, high school athletes could take official visits starting Jan. 15 of their junior year, rather than Aug. 1 of their senior year. However, the maximum number of official visits allowed to each high school recruit would decrease from five to four. College transfers would be allowed even fewer official visits – just three, compared to the currently allowable number of five.
The length of official visits would also decrease from 48 hours to 36, with a two-night maximum for lodging that could be paid for by the host institution, with exceptions granted for institutions located in areas that don’t have nighttime, outgoing flights. On-campus evaluations would be allowed during official visits throughout the high school academic year under the proposed rule modifications.
The WBCA slideshow also highlighted larger issues in college athletics, such as work-life balance for coaches (“Coaches have learned how to work smarter during the pandemic and have achieved greater work/life balance. We prefer not to go back to business as usual.”) and the dichotomy between the American model of intercollegiate athletics and the recruiting of international prospects by American colleges and universities (“Most other countries do not have interscholastic athletics. Our current recruiting structure does not work because it applies scholastic conditions to a nonscholastic space.”).
In May, an interview that The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman conducted with former Washington and Boise State football coach Chris Petersen, who stepped down in December 2019, made waves in coaching circles, as Petersen talked about topics such as work-life balance, recruiting and happiness:
I’ve had a couple of different definitions of success and I’m always curious what people think about what success is to them. But I had one that was, success is to be able to control the quality and balance of your life. I really believed in that, and I would be so frustrated that I knew that that was true to me, and I wasn’t living that. I wasn’t able to live it in this job because, even when I would come home at night, my mind was 1,000 miles away trying to fix things back at the office.
That’s what I worry about in college football to this day. The recruiting part is out of control. So many coaches I’ve talked to said that because of COVID (restrictions) it’s actually been great in terms of recruiting (because recruiting has slowed down). It’s recharged them, even though Zoom has worn them out. So, how do we create this balance in college football?
That dynamic obviously isn’t limited to college football.
Across the country, many Americans have become accustomed to a new, and often improved, work-life balance and as workplaces continue to open up to their pre-pandemic forms, questions loom about what positive aspects of working from home or limited travel can be integrated into the future of workplace cultures and expectations. College basketball is no different and women’s basketball stakeholders, specifically, could have additional incentives for making what they believe to be improvements to the NCAA’s recruiting regulations and the recruiting calendar.
The 2021 NCAA Tournament forced all children – regardless of age, or if a mother was nursing – to count toward a school’s 34-person traveling party and The Athletic reported how the conditions were especially challenging for working mothers:
For starters, the NCAA isn’t offering a childcare stipend for parents who left their kids at home. There is no kid’s corner in the tournament bubble. There were no guaranteed suites for the parents and their young ones.
Some coaches will be there for upwards of a month. Choosing between their teams and their children is a really difficult decision to make, and one the NCAA made no easier by laying down blanket protocol.
For the coaches who are breastfeeding, their infant counts against the travel party numbers. So that baby, who depends on the coach as a food source, is “taking” a spot that, in some programs, could have gone to another support staffer, trainer, tutor or counselor because the NCAA didn’t want to make any distinctions.
Coaches who may have faced a difficult decision between bringing a child to the controlled environment at the NCAA tournament (and using a spot in the team’s traveling party as a result) or leaving a child at home for an indefinite period of time could respond to their experiences over the last 15 months – not only those in March 2021 – by trying to reshape the future of the recruiting calendar in order to improve the work-life balance within the profession.
Proposed changes to the recruiting calendar
The modified recruiting calendar was proposed for the 2021-22 academic year, as the 11-person WBCA NCAA Division I Stewardship Working Group, which was created to provide quick responses to the NCAA during the pandemic, suggested in the slideshow that it would be easier for coaches to adapt to a “new normal,” rather than to revert to a pre-pandemic recruiting environment for one year and then adjust again to the potential implementation of new recruiting regulations starting in August 2022.
The proposed recruiting calendar would have the following effects:
August 2021: The five-day recruiting shutdown scheduled for August 2021 would increase by two days to a full week from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21.
September 2021: The month of September would become entirely an evaluation period, with evaluations taking place at opens gyms and in fall leagues with high school teams, while removing all in-person contacts and home visits. The current recruiting calendar includes a 21-day contact period from Sept. 9 through Sept. 29.
November 2021: The four-day dead period around the early signing period from Nov. 8 to Nov. 11 would be eliminated.
March 2022: The 30-day contact period would become an evaluation period.
April 2022: The April 5-7 dead period would become a quiet period, when coaches are allowed to have face-to-face contact with recruits on campus but can’t visit high schools, and the four-day dead period around the spring signing period would also become a quiet period. The second evaluation period from April 22-24 would become a quiet period.
June 2022: A three-day evaluation period from June 16-18 would be created during the month-long quiet period.
July 2022: The proposed schedule modifications would create two, four-day evaluation weekends and the rest of the month would be a quiet period, replacing an eight-day dead period that currently exists in the middle of the month.
Last month, the NCAA Women’s Basketball Oversight Committee (WBOC) made a preliminary recommendation of the revised recruiting calendar for the 2021-22 academic year to the Division I Council. DI Council meeting notes obtained by Out of Bounds say DI Council action on the recommendation is expected during its meeting from June 22-23 and that the NCAA is receiving feedback on the concept until then.
The NCAA didn’t respond to a request for comment.
What was some of the feedback the WBCA received?
In a document that contained feedback to the WBCA’s proposals from members of an unnamed conference, which was obtained by Out of Bounds, stakeholders in the conference expressed concerns about conference representation on the WBCA NCAA Division I Stewardship Working Group that created the proposals, the working group’s perceived urgency to change recruiting calendars beyond the summer of 2021 and the consequences of limiting the number of official visits granted to each high school recruit.
Eight of the working group’s 11 members represent an institution that competes in an FBS conference, including Cullop, Close, Georgia’s Joni Taylor, Iowa’s Lisa Bluder, Iowa State’s Bill Fennelly, North Carolina’s Courtney Banghart and retired former Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw. “The working group that created these rules seems unbalanced in terms of representation,” one person in the conference wrote.
Six of the 11 working group members were also members of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Oversight Committee’s Ad Hoc Working Group on Recruiting, which developed the current recruiting calendar. Furman head coach Jackie Carson and Close, UCLA’s head coach, are currently members of the WBOC.
Another anonymous stakeholder from the unnamed conference wrote that reducing the number of official visits per high school recruit from five to four, and from five official visits to three for transfers “might disproportionately impact many of the CCA22 conferences. Less visits means the [potential student-athletes] have less options to visit a variety of schools.”
CCA22 refers to the Collegiate Commissioners’ Association Group, which consists of the 22 Division I conferences that aren’t included in the Power 5 or Group of Five.
One individual cited the number of players in the transfer portal and asked, rhetorically, if coaches and athletes would want more time to build relationships during the recruiting process, prior to an athlete signing her National Letter of Intent. “No in-home visits and no off-campus contact until after they sign an NLI, and a reduced number of official visits and shorter official visits all seem very counter-productive to building that relationship,” the individual wrote.
The WBCA’s slideshow noted that as of early May, there were more than 1,000 players in the transfer portal. “Coaches must develop stronger relationships with players to have any chance of decreasing this number,” the slideshow stated. “Our proposals will provide coaches with more time on campus with SAs.”
As first-time transfers are now allowed to play immediately, college basketball coaches may now have to re-recruit the players on their current rosters in ways, or to degrees, in which they previously didn’t have to, so spending more time on campus could potentially have dual benefits for coaches: better work-life balance and the ability to cultivate stronger bonds with their current players since 52 recruiting days would be eliminated if this proposal is enacted.
One stakeholder in the unnamed conference called out the perceived hypocrisy of not allowing in-home visits due to health and safety concerns, while the proposed recruiting rules would still allow coaches to take hours-long international flights. The individual wrote, “So, we’ll pay thousands of dollars to send coaches overseas to recruit, but they won’t be able to have any in-person contact with those PSAs while they are there?”
Another anonymous stakeholder wrote, “Why make the in-house visit elimination a permanent rule change when we don’t know the long-term ramifications of COVID on travel, indoor meetings, etc… I would be open to a short-term change but am not ready to pull the trigger on a permanent change until we can socialize this more with our administrators and coaches.”
The impact of the pandemic on the use of scouting services
Given the previously mentioned recruiting dead period that lasted from mid-March 2020 through May 2021, recruiting efforts and capabilities were severely limited. So I wondered, was there a boom in spending on football scouting and recruiting services? If coaches couldn’t conduct in-home visits or welcome recruits on campus like they previously could, did they try to bridge the information and communication gap by investing more in resources that could inform them about players’ physical abilities?
Or, as athletic departments across the country faced multi-million-dollar consequences from the pandemic, did spending on recruiting and scouting services take a hit like so many other parts of athletic department budgets?
I filed a series of public records requests to try to find out. I requested copies of any contracts that athletic departments signed with recruiting or scouting services during the 2019 and 2020 calendar years to see if there was a notable year-over-year change in either direction. Note that most services were purchased as one-year plans or subscriptions.
Here are 22 Power 5 football programs whose receipts I compiled, listed in descending order of schools’ spending on recruiting and scouting services in 2020. On average, the schools examined spent roughly $6,000 less on football scouting and recruiting services during the 2020 calendar year than in 2019, but there are individual programs that changed their spending levels by a significant margin.
As the saying goes, “it just means more” in the SEC, so it should come as no surprise that in the admittedly limited sample sizes of schools examined in each conference, the SEC not only spent the most money on recruiting services, on average, but that the pandemic also didn’t seem to affect the conference’s high-level spending on those services, on average.
Scouting services provided by companies, such as Hudl, aren’t new and neither are video conferencing platforms, such as Zoom. But like many aspects of many professions, recruiting in college athletics was forced to be conducted virtually during the pandemic. Now the question is whether the further embrace of technology and the improved work-life balance it can provide continues to be a part of recruiting regulations and recruiting calendars in the future as vaccination rates increase and new COVID-19 cases decrease.
In case you missed the last newsletter
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“I would imagine – well, I’m sure – that the schools in Florida and other states that don’t have state income taxes are going to try to use that to their advantage on the recruiting side to pitch to student-athletes, to recruits, and to a certain extent, they probably can achieve some benefit there,” Ken Kurdziel, a CPA and partner at the certified public accounting and consulting firm James Moore & Co., told Out of Bounds, “They probably can have some residency and so forth, especially because, again, if you have a higher dollar amount that they’re earning, then they would no longer be dependents of their parents and they can clearly establish their residency in a state that doesn’t have taxes. So it could amount to something.
“I would think the schools in Florida and Texas, for instance, are definitely going to try to use that to their advantage.”
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