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 athletes 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.
Student-athletes competing in track and field are in the midst of the National Letter of Intent (NLI) signing period, which ends August 1. This is when all the hard work, practice and perseverance pay off and the student-athlete signs with the college program they have so diligently researched and selected as the best college fit.
As one class is poised to take the next step on their educational and athletic journey, the Class of 2019 begins their recruiting process in earnest. There are less than 12 months before the next NLI signing period: are you where you should be in the recruiting process? A recent NCAA survey found that high school sophomores are most likely to receive direct or indirect recruiting contact by a college coach for men’s and women’s track and field, with the vast majority (85 percent) receiving an initial verbal athletic scholarship offer their senior year. Of these athletes, 56 percent of men and 63 percent of women verbally commit to a program prior to signing an NLI.
“You get student-athletes who may have never considered going on to compete in college, and then as a sophomore or a junior, they win a state title or enhance their PR (personal record) and all of a sudden they’re thinking, ‘This is realistic, this is something I can actually do,’” notes Allison Vincent, senior recruiting coach for track and field with Next College Student Athlete (NCSA). “My recommendation is that they know recruiting standards when they enter their junior year in high school so they can be very specific about what schools to pursue.”
There is no “typical” track and field recruiting process
There are many opportunities to compete in collegiate track and field, with thousands of schools offering programs. But track and field can be challenging on an administrative level. “Duffy” Mahoney, chief of sports performance with USA Track & Field (USATF), the sport’s national governing body, notes, “We recognize and respect that the NCAA, the NAIA, the National Junior College Association, the Washington and Oregon Community College Associations and the Association of California Community College Administrators and the National Federation of State High School Associations all have their own rules and regulations for eligibility amateurism, recruiting, seasons of competition, and so on.”
Athletes must know the rules of where they live, as well as where they may want to go.
In addition to this, each event is recruited and scouted differently: recruiting a high jumper is different than recruiting a distance runner. And when it comes to scholarships, each division level has a different number available to distribute annually. For men’s programs, a fully funded NCAA D1 or D2 track team will have 12.6 scholarships and NAIA programs have 12. Women’s track and field teams have 18 scholarships per team at the D1 level, 12.6 for D2 and 12 for NAIA programs. The vast majority of track scholarships are given as partial scholarships, but with the talent and the planning, there is always the chance you can earn a full ride.
Projecting your division level
In the 2016/2017 school year, roughly 1,100,000 high school boys and girls participated in track and field. Less than two percent compete at the Division I level, so student-athletes should set their expectations accordingly as they scout for schools.
How good do you need to be to get a track scholarship? Foundationally, you either have the times or the marks or you don’t. But each program has different needs and coaching philosophies when it comes to awarding scholarship money. Click here to learn event standards for men’s and women’s track and field at the different division levels.
Building PR, getting noticed by college coaches
Times, distances and heights are the most important factors in college track recruiting, and while an NCSA recruiting profile provides easy access to your running times, your jumping and throwing distances (if you’re a field athlete), your high school resume, and skills videos, exposure at events and building a high profile is essential to getting on a coach’s radar. USATF’S indoor and outdoor Youth and Junior Olympic Championships series offer progressional events that comprise preliminary, Association and Regional meets that give athletes the opportunity to advance to the National Championships in track and field and cross country.
“USATF’s youth programs put athletes in the spotlight where they are competing against the best and give them the opportunity to be seen by recruiting college coaches, most of whom are USATF-certified,” Mahoney says.
USATF is not involved with college recruiting, but the organization is closely aligned with high school and college federations to help navigate the rulebook legislations that permit student-athletes to compete on U.S. teams during the year with no jeopardy to their eligibility, Mahoney observes.
USATF’s programs span all age groups from the Youth program (ages 7-18) to the Masters division, where there are athletes up to 100 years-old! The USATF Junior Outdoor Championships, to be held June 15-17 in Bloomington, Indiana feature competitive athletes ages 14-19. “If you win or place second at Juniors, that’s prestigious,” Mahoney says. “And then you go on to compete at the world level, where if you medal, you’ve made a significant statement in the sport.”
USATF programs “help kids extend their season,” Vincent observes, “especially for those of us in the northern climates. It allows them the opportunity to prove themselves on a national stage. This, in turn allows more opportunities for PRs, and the bigger the PR, the more options you will have with colleges.”