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. Kyle Winters was a standout high school pitcher who tossed seven scoreless innings in a major tournament during his senior year. That performance against some heavy-hitting future MLB draft picks helped Kyle earn a full-ride scholarship to the University of New Mexico. However, Kyle opted to play professional baseball and was drafted by the Florida Marlins in the fifth round and played seven seasons for various minor league teams. Kyle 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 immediate institution last week of the NCAA Division 1 Council’s new recruiting rules raises one big question: From now on, should unofficial visits simply be referred to as just “visits”? That’s a joke, but the new rules do change the parameters of the time-honored unofficial visit and perhaps its ultimate role in the recruiting process.
The unofficial college visit has for generations been a rite of passage. These excursions allow families to consider a potential college and determine if the institution would be a good athletic/academic/lifestyle fit. During these visits, student-athletes could also arrange on-campus meetings with college coaches. Unofficial visits were a way for underclassmen to visit college campuses, meet with coaches and perhaps land an early verbal offer. It’s that last part that compelled the NCAA to institute these rule changes.
What D1 sports are impacted by the new rules?
The new rules apply to all sports except D1 football, men’s and women’s D1 basketball and men and women’s D1 Lacrosse, which changed their recruiting models last year. D1 softball adopted new recruiting rules and added stricter restrictions of its own. For example, it is illegal for college coaches to have recruiting conversations or send recruiting messages through a student-athlete’s club or high school coach or another third party. No one can reach out to college coaches on a recruit’s behalf before Sept. 1 of their junior year.
What are the new D1 rules regarding unofficial visits?
The basics of the unofficial visit are unchanged. An unofficial visit is one in which the family foots the bill for a campus visit. Families can still take unofficial visits as early and as often as the student-athletes want. But the new rules prohibit coaches and athletic departments from participating in the student-athlete’s unofficial visit until Sept. 1 of the recruit’s junior year in high school. Previously during an official visit, the athlete could talk to a coach (except during a dead period on the recruiting calendar). The athlete might even receive an early verbal offer. Now, if a freshman or sophomore student-athlete happens to encounter a coach during their unofficial visit, they cannot have any recruiting conversations.
According to the new rules, student-athletes can still receive up to three free home sporting event tickets (prospects from families in which parents are divorced or separated may receive two additional free admissions). If the sporting venue is off-campus, the school can provide transportation within a 30-mile radius.
Why the new rules?
According to the NCAA, the “sweeping changes” were made to ease early recruiting pressures and allow prospective student-athletes to focus on their grades, take their ACTs or SATs, continue their athletic development, research colleges and get the most out of their high school experience without stressing out over a perceived need to choose a college so early.
What about the other divisions?
Unchanged. D2, D3 and National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) schools are not impacted by the rule changes. Neither are NAIA or junior colleges. So, no matter your age, you may arrange an unofficial visit at these institutions with the coach or athletic department and you can speak with the coach when you visit the campus.
So, is this the end of early recruiting?
Again, as per the NCAA: “Coaches can and will still evaluate younger prospects at camps, clinics and showcases; they just can’t discuss recruiting with a prospect until Sept. 1 of the prospect’s junior year.” Student-athletes can still message coaches early and often. In short, the new rules do not mean they should put off the recruiting process until Sept. 1 of their junior year. In fact, it will be more important than ever to do your due recruiting diligence before this deadline because come that Sept. 1 camp and official visit invites will come streaming out to of-age athletes who are on the coach’s list of recruits. From building your online recruiting profile to compiling your skills video, you need to be on that list.
Are unofficial visits obsolete?
Certainly not. The unofficial visit still helps student-athletes and their families make informed decisions about their target schools. But in regards to recruiting, Carol Bruggerman, National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Executive Director, notes that while coaches can now pay for official visits beginning Sept. 1 of a student-athlete’s junior year, they will still extensively use unofficial visits in the process.
“Remember, a prospect can only take five official visits (and only one per institution),” Bruggerman says. “A coach may want to have a prospect visit the campus more than once, visit with professors in their desired major and view sporting events. A prospect can take an unlimited amount of unofficial visits to various campuses and they also can take unlimited unofficial visits to the same institution. The unofficial visit will give a prospect the opportunity to visit campus more than once. “
Unofficial visits are still a rite of passage for student-athletes, and while underclassmen with aspirations to play at the D1 level can no longer engage with coaches and develop that relationship before their junior year, they can use the opportunity to experience campus life and be better able to consider whether they can see themselves as an athlete and a student there.