The Impact of International Recruiting on the Hunt for Scholarships

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. Jaimie Duffek was one of the top 50 high school softball players in Illinois who went onto play outfield for Drake University. Jaimie 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.

The competition for college roster spots and athletic scholarships is truly international. While it isn’t a new trend, for many sports–especially at the DI level–coaches are recruiting the best 17-19 years olds from across the globe, not just the US. In this article, we breakdown how international recruiting impacts the recruiting process for specific sports.

What sports have the most international student-athletes?

Some of the most recent data shows that 5.6% of DI college athletes are not born in the U.S. While that is a relatively small number, it has a huge impact on a few specific sports. In tennis, 32% of male athletes and 30% of female college DI players are born outside of the U.S. For ice hockey, 21% of males and 27% of female athletes are foreign born. However, in sports that are mostly American like football and softball, less than 1% are international athletes.

How international student-athletes change the numbers in recruiting

It is important you know the landscape of recruiting for your sport so you can set realistic expectations. If you are a hockey player, you might be the best in your area and maybe even one of the best in the country, but when it comes to college scholarships, you are competing against an international talent pool.

The NCAA has often referenced statistics predicting the likelihood of a high school athlete playing in college. For sports with lower numbers of foreign players, those numbers are fairly accurate, but if you play a sport with a large portion of international athletes, your likelihood of playing in college should be much lower than initially predicted by the NCAA.

For example, according to the data, there is a 4.6% chance of a high school hockey player playing DI hockey, but that is assuming all DI players are American athletes. If you include the roster spots filled by international athletes, there are 20% fewer DI spots filled by American high school athletes.

What is the appeal of international athletes?

The recruiting of international athletes started and continues for one simple reason: Coaches are paid to win. When the difference between winning and losing can be a matter of how good your best three or four players are, coaches are going to search far and wide. In addition, at smaller DI programs, coaches find it easier to convince an international athlete to come to their school over an elite American athlete who might not want to go to a smaller, out-of-the-way college. Virginia Tech head men’s soccer coach said in an interview.

“You go over to an international player, they don’t know the difference between Virginia Tech, JMU, etc.,” Brizendine said. “They don’t know the difference so you can get that player. But if you go up to northern Virginia, they know the difference between Maryland, UVa, and Tech.”

Do international athletes get more of the scholarship dollars?

There is no central database that records which athletes are getting scholarship dollars and for what amount, so there is no way of having hard numbers. That said, using the logic that the top athletes on a team get the lion’s share of scholarships and that international athletes are generally the better athletes, it stands to reason that international athletes are getting more of the scholarship dollars than their simple participation numbers would suggest.

How does that impact your recruiting?

You need to adjust your math on how likely it is you will play at the college level. If you play a sport with a large percentage of international athletes at the college level, realize the numbers you see regarding the percentage likelihood of getting a scholarship or percentage likelihood of playing in college need to be adjusted down.

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