‘No blueprint’ for college recruiting in viral environment
After Michigan lost to Ohio State in the semifinals of the women’s Big Ten Tournament, coach Kim Barnes Arico and her staff immediately hit the road. They intended to take advantage of a full week off before the NCAA Tournament by making visiting as many potential recruits as possible.
“That was our window. You get to go to someone’s home, that helps you build relationships. Helps build so many things,” Barnes Arico said. “We had all these things scheduled until we went to see high school championships.”
Those championships were canceled, of course. So was the NCAA Tournament, and just about everything else in sports due to the coronavirus, including the crucial recruiting period for college coaches who were putting the finishing touches on the 2020 class and laying the all-important groundwork for next year.
The NCAA has barred in-person recruiting until at least April 15. The Collegiate Commissioner’s Association, which administers the letters of intent used by Division I and II athletes, followed with a suspension on all letters through the same date.
The result? No college coaches packed into suffocating high school gyms. No coaches milling around airport terminals, waiting for the next flight to some out-of-the-way place. No chance to shake hands with mom and dad and make a pitch that ultimately hold the fate of your career in their hands.
“March was watching high school games and going into homes. April and May had recruiting weekends. Home visits are all gone,” Barnes Arico said. “When the calendar comes back, June isn’t a home-visit month. What will happen?”
It’s a similar story for college football, baseball and a myriad other sports. There is a pervasive sense of uncertainty that has coaches on edge as they try to navigate recruiting amid a pandemic.
“I think recruiting is more of an inexact science right now than it ever has been,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “Just knowing your own numbers and how to attack that — how can you commit to something now that you don’t know what will exist, and the rules behind that existence? I think there’s a lot of programs up in the air.”
That includes the Jayhawks. Like most, they are largely done with their 2020 recruiting class. But they’re also awaiting the decision of leading scorer Devon Dotson, who is expected to skip his final two seasons for the NBA, and that could potentially open up a late scholarship for Self and his staff to fill.
“What you do,” Self said, “is you recruit like you’re going to have more scholarships when you don’t end in the end.”
Just like many businesses these days, technology is helping to fill the void. FaceTime and Zoom video conferences allow coaches to see athletes as they talk, and kids are increasingly posting workouts on YouTube for coaches to see.