NCAA Committee Supports Recruiting Ban Until Junior Year

The change matches recommendations from the NFCA

A key NCAA Committee has changed its recommendation, now urging a ban on recruiting contact until a student-athlete’s junior year of high school.  The previous recommendation would have allowed the first recruiting contact in their sophomore year.

The new recommendation came from the NCAA Division I Student-Athlete Experience Committee in a January meeting.  The NCAA said the committee recommended the changes after considering feedback from NCAA surveys in the fall of 2017 from student-athletes, conferences, coaches associations, governing bodies and other athletic associations.  This matches the recommendation from the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) released just before that meeting.

“What I’ve appreciated about this process is we have got a room full of people who are very interested in bettering the student-athlete experience,” said Justin Sell, chair of the committee and athletics director at South Dakota State.  He also said the changes were designed to strike the right balance, allowing prospective student-athletes time and opportunity to evaluate schools and choose a program that meets their academic and athletic goals.

If the Division I Council adopts the recommendations, the proposal will look like this according to the NCAA:

  • Unofficial visits, which now have no restrictions on their dates for most sports, would not be permitted until Sept. 1 of prospective student-athletes’ junior year. This change aims to encourage the decision-making process for both prospective student-athletes and colleges and universities to occur at a time when academic and athletic preparedness can be more accurately considered.
  • A coach or school would not be able to engage in recruiting conversations with a prospective student-athlete at an athletic camp or clinic until Sept. 1 of the student’s junior year in high school. Additionally, the committee noted all participating athletes should have a uniform camp or clinic experience, and coaches should not be able to pull aside prospects for recruiting conversations or activities until their junior year in high school.
  • Official visits, now prohibited until prospective student-athletes’ senior year of high school, would be allowed to begin Sept. 1 in their junior year. Today, these visits are often made after a student already has committed to a particular school, preventing the official visit from being part of the decision-making process. The change aims to emphasize the official visit in the recruiting process and better align them with the timing of visits taken by the general student body.

The Division I council will meet in April and is expected to vote on the matter.  The NCAA did not mention whether there were proposed changes for the rules to take effect immediately or with the original proposal of September 1 of 2018.

D1 Coaches Want Recruiting to Start Later than NCAA Proposal

“The biggest problem facing college softball today is early recruiting, but it is not going to change unless the coaches and the NCAA work together to make it change.”

Division I Softball Coaches are calling for all recruiting contact for student-athletes to begin at the start of the junior year of high school.  This is a contrast to the proposed legislation before the NCAA Division I Council that would allow recruiting conversations to begin at the beginning of a student-athlete’s sophomore year of high school.

The response is from the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) whose Division I membership submitted the comments to  the NCAA on the proposed changes to the rules, which include:

  • No recruiting conversations with Prospective Student-Athlete’s (PSA’s) until September 1 of their sophomore year of high school
  • No game tickets to PSA’s until September 1 of the PSA’s sophomore year of high school
  • Official visits moved to September 1 of the PSA’s junior year of high school

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The rule essentially allows verbal commitment of athletes at the beginning of their sophomore year of high school.  Currently, there are no restrictions.

The NCAA Division I council is scheduled to vote on the legislation in April 2018.

In its statement, the NFCA felt that there are loopholes in the current recommendations before the Division I Council from the Student Athlete Experience Committee (SAEC).

“The SAEC did not address incoming telephone calls,” the release stated.  “This means that recruiting communication initiated by telephone from a PSA to a collegiate coach remains permissible at any point in time.”

The NFCA’s statement praised the legislation adopted by Lacrosse which sets September 1 of the junior year as the start date for all recruiting contact, citing that the “‘bright line’ for all recruiting contact at a later more appropriate age for PSA’s (prospective student athletes) as exactly what was needed to address the problem of early recruiting.”

The issue was vigorously discussed at the NFCA’s National Convention in December.  The group states that a follow-up survey revealed that 80% of D1 coaches support Sept. 1 of the Junior year as the start of recruiting contact.  84% of coaches favored the structure of the lacrosse proposal over the SAEC proposal.

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NFCA President and University of Tennessee co-head coach Karen Weekly expressed the need for action in the statement, “The biggest problem facing college softball today is early recruiting, but it is not going to change unless the coaches and the NCAA work together to make it change.”

Travel Coaches Weigh-In on Proposed Recruiting Changes

“Some kids know what they want and some kids get to college and still don’t know what to do.”

Travel Softball Coaches may have the best guess at what might happen if rules are changed by the NCAA when they vote on rules that seek to end early recruiting.   They are the facilitators of recruiting and often need to balance the needs of college coaches, their travel organizations, athletes and their families.  We asked what they thought of the proposed legislation to end early recruiting and what it could mean for travel softball.

Coaches Interviewed:  Mike Stith, Batbusters; Bruce Richardson, SoCal Athletics; Sean Brashear, Firecrackers;

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Firecrackers Coach Sean Brashear said the new legislation is a good idea.  He believes early recruiting takes away from development.  “Those years should be focused on the development of these girls as players and people,” he said.

Batbuster’s Coach Mike Stith also endorses the idea of ending early recruiting.  He believes there’s a 98% chance of a yes vote on the new rules.  He feels that early recruiting is hurting the sport.  “There’s been a huge decline in the level of coaching and development at the younger ages,” he said. “Parents are in a hurry to get in front of colleges.  They’re missing instruction time. These rules will benefit the sport from the grass roots.

But SoCal Athletics Coach Bruce Richardson is on the fence about the proposed rules.  “Who’s to say what’s the right age to be recruited?” he asked.  “Some kids know what they want and some kids get to college and they still don’t know what to do.”

Will it work to curb early recruiting?

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Richardson said he was skeptical about whether the new legislation would be effective or needed.  He believes there will likely be away to get around them.  “I have many conversations with coaches.  We can figure a way to get a message to everybody.  There’s ways around everything,” he said.  He also questioned the inclination to over-regulate the recruiting process.

Richardson also questioned the wisdom of allowing recruiting conversations in the sophomore year of high school.  “How is it ok to recruit a 15 year-old and not a 13 year-old?” he said. “And parents don’t really have to buy into all this recruiting stuff.”  He said it was the responsibility of the parents to make the decision with their daughter and not just say ‘It’s what my daughter wants’.

Stith also believes people will figure out ways to get around the rules.  But he also wants people not to lose perspective of what the rules mean.  “The number of schools and scholarships are a finite number,” he said, referring to the idea that top scholarships will still go to top players.

So how might travel softball change if the news rules are enacted?

Brashear expects there may be few showcase events for 12u and 14U players.  “I would like to see us have more time to practice and develop our team so we can prepare them for high school and college,” he said.

He also believes College Coaches will be able to make more informed decisions about the players they recruit since committing a 7th or 8th grader can be risky. “They’re banking on the fact that she’s going to continue to grow as an athlete, person and a student,” he said, referring to the idea that some players may peak early but their progress could level out in the high school years.

If the rule changes are enacted Richardson said there may be unexpected consequences that are anybody’s guess.  “Sometimes you have to let it sink in after rule changes to see how this would affect me or the our kids, he said. “It’s hard to judge until you live it a little bit.”

Stith believes one group clearly benefits.  “Some of the late bloomers are going to have a chance to compete,” he said.