Recruiting Column: Top three ways college coaches decide between similar recruits

Recruiting Column: Top three ways college coaches decide between similar recruits

Recruiting Column

Recruiting Column: Top three ways college coaches decide between similar recruits

USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the recruiting process. This isn’t about where just the top five-star athletes are headed but rather a guide to the process and the pitfalls for student-athletes nationwide from Fred Bastie, the owner and founder of is an industry leader in college recruiting. Their technology-based recruiting software identifies the right colleges for potential recruits to pursue and their recruiting advisors provide a recruiting experience that is trusted by college coaches and backed by a money-back guarantee.

There are thousands of high school athletes every year looking to extend their playing career and earn a college scholarship. Except for the top 2% of athletes, many of the athletes are very similar athletically. They’re about the same size, they have approximately the same athletic statistics and measurables and that makes it difficult for a college coach to decide which athlete is the right choice. For that reason, most college coaches have to do a little extra research on those athletes to decide which ones get the scholarship offers.

Essentially, college coaches have to “break the tie” between similar players.  While they consider a variety of things, I believe there are three major “tiebreakers” college coaches look at first. Here are my top three recruiting tiebreakers along with a short explanation of why coaches feel they are important.      


A few years ago, I was talking with a college coach at a showcase event when he made a very telling comment. He told me, “I wish every recruit at this camp had his GPA on the front of his jersey and his standardized test score on the back of his jersey.” That statement alone should tell you how important college coaches feel academics are when it comes to evaluating potential recruits. Don’t fool yourself, college coaches look at academics when evaluating EVERY recruit. If you don’t qualify academically for a college then you aren’t going to play for that college. It’s really that simple.

I’ve mentioned this before, but your academic profile is the first tiebreaker between athletes of similar abilities. In addition to being able to brag on the team GPA or a high graduation rate, there are many other reasons why college coaches want good students on their roster.

First and foremost, a great academic record is an indication of a student’s work ethic and achievement standards, for all areas of their lives. Athletes who put forth the effort in the classroom generally put forth the same kind of effort in practice and in games.

Second, a good GPA and standardized test score indicates to coaches that you will most likely achieve the minimum college GPA needed to maintain athletic eligibility. This translates into an easier transition into college life. If you’re stressed about grades, it may affect your performance.

Third, good students generally qualify for academic scholarships and in-state tuition, potentially saving the athletic department scholarship money. This also allows coaches in the equivalency sports to spread the athletic scholarship money out over more players by filling in the financial gaps with academic scholarships. Let’s face it, money is money and if part of your scholarship dollars come from your academic achievements you should be proud!

Finally, your academic profile has become a very important factor in recruiting. Admissions and administration offices are putting more and more pressure on athletic departments to recruit athletes that succeed academically once they get into school. 


Every sport has statistics, but having a high batting average, leading the team in receptions or scoring 20 points per game in high school are not the only things you need to play at the next level. Coaches look at more than just statistics and box scores. That’s why they come to watch you play. They want to know who you are, how you approach the game, how you react to different situations, and how hard you work. Seeing how you react after you miss a layup tells a coach a lot more about you and your character than your on base percentage in district play.

The point is that college coaches look at your intangibles as one of the recruiting tiebreakers. Every college program has their “top” recruits, but the rest of the roster is filled by projectable, coachable players that possess the intangibles to be successful.

Many times the intangibles can be the difference between being mediocre and being exceptional and college coaches know that. Intangibles are the attributes an athlete possesses or the behavior he or she exhibits that don’t require talent but are crucial to success. These intangibles are sometimes difficult to measure and aren’t anything you can put on paper, but they are evident to a coach when they see you play and are easily communicated by your current coach.

To me, the intangibles that matter are effort, work ethic, attitude and sportsmanship. When/if you make it to the next level nothing less than perfection and excellence is tolerated. This means taking pride in what you do and doing the little things the right way even when no one’s watching. It is a lot easier on coaches if you do that on your own, without having to be constantly told to do so. Intangibles are an indication that an athlete will work on their own without constantly being pushed. It doesn’t take exceptional talent to go all out on every play, to work hard in practice, to approach the game with the right attitude or to be a good sport. 

Your current coach’s opinion

As a college coach, whose opinion about a recruit would matter to you? Would you call a player’s parents? How about their classmates?  Their girlfriend or boyfriend? Probably not! As a college coach you would be looking for an unbiased opinion of each player’s abilities and character. For that reason, most college coaches value the opinion of your current coach.

Last year we had the pleasure of interviewing Texas A&M Head Basketball Coach Billy Kennedy. He was adamant when he told us, “I would advise a young man to have his high school coach or AAU coach reach out to our staff, on his behalf. If that recruit truly has the ability to play at this level, it is going to take a personal conversation with his coach for us to even consider taking the next step.”

If a coach is willing to vouch for the character, work ethic, and abilities of a player, as a college coach you would be much more interested in that player. An athlete’s coach sees their effort in practice every day, sees how they react to game situations, and is the best source for a college coach to gain insight on a player. That is why your current coach’s opinion is my third recruiting tiebreaker.

Here’s the deal

If you’re not a five-star recruit (and most athletes are not), then you have to win the tiebreakers to land that college scholarship. Work hard in the classroom, focus on the intangibles that matter and make sure your current coach is in your corner.


More USA TODAY High School Sports
Recruiting Column: Top three ways college coaches decide between similar recruits
I found this story on USA TODAY High School Sports and wanted to share it with you: %link% For more high school stories, stats and videos, visit