USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the college recruiting process. Here, you’ll find practical tips and real-world advice on becoming a better recruit to maximize your opportunities to play at the college level. Joe is a former college-athlete and coach at the NAIA level, where he earned an NAIA National Championship. He is just one of many former college and professional players, college coaches, and parents who are part of the Next College Student Athlete team. Their knowledge, experience, and dedication along with NCSA’s history of digital innovation, and long-standing relationship with the college coaching community have made NCSA the largest and most successful athletic recruiting network in the country.
Sports news organizations frequently post articles about high school freshmen who’ve verbally committed to a Division I sports program. A lot of families see this and scratch their heads. How can that student be in contact with a coach so early on? Don’t NCAA rules prohibit communication before a student-athlete’s junior year? In this article, we cover the ways coaches and athletes get around the NCAA rules and how athletes are connecting with college coaches before the official NCAA recruiting periods.
What the NCAA rules say
The NCAA recruiting rules around coach-recruit contact are written to protect student-athletes from getting too many calls and visits from coaches. To do so, the NCAA created a recruiting calendar that dictates when and how coaches can contact recruits. These are called “recruiting periods,” which include the contact, evaluation, quiet and dead periods. For more information see our earlier article here.
The rule of thumb is that coaches can’t contact a recruit before June 1 of their junior year. (There are some variations depending on the sport.) While these rules limit when and how coaches can contact recruits, coaches often recruit and offer scholarships to athletes well before their junior year.
How does a high school freshman get a scholarship before coaches can contact them?
The NCAA rules state a college coach can’t “recruit” an athlete before June 1 of their junior year, so it might seem illegal for recruits to get offered and be accepting scholarships as freshmen or younger. It isn’t illegal and here’s how it happens:
- “Recruiting” has a very specific definition by the NCAA. Recruiting as defined by the NCAA means a college coach actively reaching out to an athlete. While the NCAA limits how and when a coach can initiate contact with a recruit, there are no rules prohibiting an athlete from calling or visiting a college coach. If the athlete initiates the contact, coaches and recruits can talk and discuss whatever they want, including scholarships.
- These recruits’ coaches are very involved. Because college coaches can’t contact the recruits or families directly, they utilize their club or high school coaches to arrange a way for them to meet with or talk to the recruits.
- These athletes are getting noticed by being at national events. The hard truth about athletes getting scholarship offers as 8th graders is they are very clearly some of the top athletes in the country for their age. When an athlete receives an early scholarship offer, it is very likely they are already competing at the national level in their sport. If you want to get interest as an underclassman, you need to be at these elite events and championships.
Get proactive in your recruiting
If you aren’t getting recruited as an 8th grader, not all hope is lost, but if you are dreaming of playing D-1 sports, you need to get busy.
Coaches can talk to athletes if the athlete initiates the contact
The NCAA rules prohibit coaches from calling, emailing or visiting an athlete before their junior year. However, if the athlete initiates the contact with the coach, they can talk. Here are the most common ways this happens:
- Athletes schedule a call with a coach. A third party—like the athlete’s coach—will tell the college coach that the athlete will be calling at a specific time. When that athlete calls and the coach answers, they can talk about whatever they want.
- Athletes make unofficial visits to the coach on their campus. If an athlete or family visits a college campus, they are free to meet with the coach and tour the campus. The key here is the athlete needs to make sure the coach knows they are coming and has agreed to meet with them. This is usually done through coordinated calls ahead of time.
Use online tools to monitor your recruiting interest
Online profiles like the ones provided by NCSA allow athletes to see what coaches have been looking at their information. The challenge for recruits who can’t be contacted by coaches is that a coach can’t tell the athlete they are interested. If the recruit can see a coach is looking at in their profile, however, they can take that as a clear signal the coach is interested. Then, the recruit can try to establish contact.
Use your current coaches to establish contact
A student-athlete’s high school or club coach is the perfect person to help them establish connections with college coaches before the contact period. It is not uncommon for elite recruits’ coaches to arrange a visit or phone call with college coaches interested in them. Without this third party, families would rarely be able to take advantage of the major rules loophole.