The Recruiting Process: How to Protect and Help Your Athlete

By: Brent Elsasser and Gerald Masterson, Ph.D.

Highly visible sought-after recruits receive heavy attention from college coaches, the media, boosters, and others that can make the recruiting process very straining on the recruit, their family, and even the high school coach. Recruiting blunders are a common occurrence as the need to win mentality in Division I college athletics is prevalent. As the high school coach of a recruit, there are steps that can be taken to help alleviate some of the pressures placed on your athlete.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has rules and you as a high school coach should be aware of these rules. First, the NCAA defines a recruited prospective student-athlete as a student who has started classes for the ninth grade or has received contact by a coach offering any financial assistance or other benefits before the ninth grade. The student officially becomes a recruited prospective student-athlete when contacted by a college coaching staff on more than one occasion for the purpose of recruitment.


The NCAA limits contact during the year and specifies recruiting and non-recruiting periods. There are four periods specified by the NCAA: the contact, evaluation, quiet, and dead periods. The amount of face-to-face encounters and dialogue the coach is allowed with a recruit differs with each period. The contact period is the only time when coaches may visit the recruit's home and talk with the athlete and his or her parents. In the evaluation period, coaches can visit the recruit's school to observe the athlete at practice or a game and converse with high school coaches and guidance counselors. However, the coach cannot have dialogue with the recruit. The only in-person contact allowed during the quiet period is on the college campus during a visit. No face-to-face contact is allowed during the dead period. Telephone calls are permitted during all periods, with limitations on how often the coach may call. To view the dates for each recruiting period, visit the NCAA's website.

College Visits

A recruit can visit a college campus, either officially or unofficially, during the recruiting process. An official visit is paid for by the interested school and consists of transportation to and from the college, room and meals during the visit, and reasonable entertainment expenses such as a home athletics contest for the recruit and his or her parents. Before an official visit can take place, the recruit must provide a copy of their high school transcripts and ACT or SAT scores. The recruit is limited to five official visits, which can take place during the contact, evaluation, or quiet periods. An unofficial visit is paid for by the recruit and their family, except for complimentary admissions to a home athletics contest the school may provide. The recruit can talk to the coaches on any unofficial visit except during the dead period. A recruit can take as many unofficial visits as desired.

Signing Day

The most important day during the recruiting cycle is signing day, when recruits sign National Letters of Intent (NLI) to play for an institution. Signing a NLI binds the athlete to that college, with penalties if the athlete doesn't follow through, such as losing a year of eligibility for transferring to another school. The NCAA's recruiting year runs from August 1st to July 31st, and the NCAA specifies signing periods for each sport. The signing period for fall sports begins the first week in February and lasts until the end of March. Basketball has two signing periods; an early signing period lasting for a week in November and the second for a month beginning in mid-April. All spring sport recruits will sign their NLI during the November period.

Verbal Commitment

Until a recruit signs a NLI, which binds them to an institution, a prospect can only verbally commit to a school until they are able to sign. When a prospect verbally commits to a school, it is no more than a promise to the coaches he or she will sign. The athlete can break a verbal commitment, and many times coaches will continue to recruit committed prospects of other schools. Negative recruiting (supposedly against the rules), a practice in which coaches from a school will talk badly about another school in an attempt to gain a recruit's commitment, is common in the recruiting world. An important note here is that an athlete does not have to sign a NLI to attend a college.

NCAA Clearinghouse

For a high school athlete to be eligible to play at the NCAA level, the individual must register and be certified by the NCAA Initial Eligibility Clearinghouse. The student's academic background, including grade-point averages for core-curriculum courses and scores from an ACT or SAT, are evaluated to determine eligibility. It is a good idea for prospective college athletes to register with the Clearinghouse after their junior year, but before their senior year, so any academic deficiencies can be addressed during the senior year. A new requirement is that prospective Division I and II athletes must send their ACT or SAT scores directly to the Clearinghouse from the testing agencies.

Many college basketball and football programs generate 20 to 30 million dollars annually in revenue (Fulks, 2000, as cited in Letawsky, 2003). Between 1985 and 2005, the average budget for NCAA Division I-A football teams more than tripled and men's basketball budgets more then quadrupled (Wolverton & Lipka, 2007). Success on the field can bring recognition, visibility and increased revenue to the school and the head coach.

Only 5.7% of high school football players and 3% of basketball players will compete at the college level, and less than 0.1% advance to the professional ranks (NCAA). The pool from which coaches select is very small, leading to intense battles for players. Winning on the field or court starts with winning on the recruiting trail. This means the recruiting battle for the highly sought-after blue chip prospects can be extremely competitive and dirty.

Fans and boosters also follow the process intensely, as the perception is attracting the best athletes to a school equates to winning. The media now covers recruiting as part of their regular reporting of college sports, and websites dedicated to recruiting have popped up all over the Internet, with fans paying to read which recruits their favorite school is pursuing. Recruiting websites receive millions of visitors monthly and rank players with a star system (1-5, with five being the highest). These websites try to stay in constant contact with recruits and tend to call prospects without parental permission. Since college coaches are not allowed to comment on a prospective student-athlete until he or she signs a NLI, these websites have numerous journalists collecting information and conducting interviews that are then relayed to their subscribers. Many journalists can be unprofessional and biased, and have been known to misconstrue quotes made by recruits. As a coach you need to encourage your athlete to limit interviews with these websites and have parents become involved by setting boundaries. One easy solution to avoiding these journalists is to not give out cell phone numbers. If you have to give them a number, only give out a home phone number where parents can help protect the recruit.

Another reason not to give out cell phone information is the escalation in frequency of text messaging. Since the NCAA limits the number of phone calls coaches can make to recruits, coaches had been sending excessive amounts of text messages to recruits. However, the NCAA recently addressed this problem by eliminating coach-to-recruit text messaging effective August 1, 2007.

The early signing period currently in place in basketball is beneficial for recruits who know their college destination and want to end the recruiting process. However you should not push your athlete into making a decision if they are not ready or if they are trying to avoid the pressure. When an early signing period is not available and your athlete has made a verbal commitment, hold them to that decision. Let the athlete know that once they've given a school their word, it should be binding. This also means that when other colleges call to inquire about the recruit, they must be told to move on and to stop recruiting the individual.

As a coach, you must stay neutral and guide your athlete along through the recruiting cycle. Offer suggestions and support, but do not pressure the player to choose a certain school. Set limits for college coaches in contacting your player, and do not let the athlete be persuaded by negativity. Help the athlete make a list of pros and cons regarding each school to help them make the decision. The decision may become easier when everything is laid out in front of them.

The NCAA has a detailed compilation of rules and regulations regarding recruiting practices. It offers information to recruits to help them know their rights and for coaches to clarify boundaries and help them follow the rules. To become better acquainted with the NCAA's policies, visit their website at and click on "Legislation and Governance" then "Eligibility and Recruiting."


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