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.
There’s no denying that recruiting starts early. We’ve all heard stories of college coaches looking at middle school prospects. But, then again, we also know for many recruiting continues on with some athletes committing to a program after they graduate high school.
It kind of makes you wonder: When does it really end? Do college coaches ever stop recruiting?
The answer seems pretty straight forward—college coaches stop recruiting when their roster is full. But here’s the thing: each division fills their rosters at different points. Here’s a few points to consider as you think about your athlete’s recruiting and where they want to go to college.
Division I prospects
You probably already know that Division I recruits the earliest and the quickest. The most elite players receive coach interest pretty much right from the start of their high school career. Typically, offers are extended to athletes of this caliber during their sophomore year and into their junior year. But more likely than not, by the end of junior year, all Division I college coaches have received verbal commitments from their top recruits.
Division I recruiting, however, doesn’t technically end at verbal commitments—the NCAA signing period is the final stage in the process. All Division I and Division II student-athletes sign a National Letter of Intent (NLI), which is a binding agreement, to mark their commitment to play their sport at their school. This happens during the second-half of their senior year, starting in February and April (depending on their sport.)
While Division I coaches may still recruit during this time to ensure they have a backup plan in case someone decommits, it’s safe to say that your student-athlete should move onto to other divisions if they haven’t heard from DI coaches by their senior year.
Head count scholarships
Another factor that may dictate a Division I college coach’s recruiting timeline is the number of head count scholarships they have available. Some Division I sports, including football (FBS only), men’s and women’s basketball, tennis, gymnastics, and volleyball, are restricted in the number of athletes that can be on a scholarship. This means that the coach can’t divide money among several players—they have a set number of scholarships.
For example, a Division I men’s basketball coach is allowed 13 athletic scholarships and everyone outside of those 13 players is considered a walk-on. So once all the available scholarships have been offered, the coach can’t really recruit other players. College coaches usually tend to be upfront, so they will let your athlete know if they don’t have scholarships available. And if your child is set on attending a specific college where no roster spots are open, they can always reach out to the coach and ask to tryout as a walk-on.
Division II prospects
Division II operates slightly later than Division I and for a reason—they want to recruit student-athletes who can compete at the DI level, but don’t commit to a Division I program. So, they wait and try to grab the athletes who are border-line Division I/Division II recruits.
You’ll find that most coaches get serious about student-athletes when they’re in their junior year. And this is in the coach’s favor as the NCAA doesn’t allow Division II college coaches to personally reach out to players until June 15 after their sophomore year.
While elite Division II athletes may receive offers the summer approaching their senior year, most coaches want to see senior game film, which extends their recruiting. Like Division I, Division II student-athletes must sign a National Letter of Intent, so that is technically the end of the recruiting process.
Learn more: What NCAA Division Is Right for You?
Division III and NAIA prospects
Division III and NAIA college coaches have more freedom and flexibility, so their recruiting tends to end much later than Division I and II. Typically, most of the recruiting happens during your athlete’s senior year. These coaches will evaluate senior year highlight film to help them identify their top recruits, and then they will make offers to student-athletes throughout their senior year—it can even carry into March. It wouldn’t be uncommon to see these coaches still recruiting in the spring of your athlete’s senior year.
Insider tip: Division II, NAIA and junior college (for some sports) are allowed to invite high school seniors on campus for workouts. Many coaches take advantage of this and will have an unsigned senior attend a workout. This may possibly extend your student-athlete’s recruiting timeline, especially if they play a winter or spring sport.
Junior college prospects
Junior college is a great option for student-athletes who are not eligible to play with the NCAA or need to develop athletically. Some student-athletes use this as their back up option, and because of this, junior college ends its recruiting the latest. You’ll find a few seniors committing to junior college programs even after they’ve graduated high school.
Read more: Why Junior College Might Make Sense For You
So, if your athlete hasn’t heard from Division I coaches by the end of their junior year, they should focus on Division II. And if they haven’t heard from Division II coaches by their senior year, it’s probably best to think about Division III and NAIA programs. Some Division II coaches will still recruit senior year, but it’s better to keep all your family’s options open. And at the end of the school year, when your athlete has graduated, if they still would like to continue playing their sport, keep junior college as a possibility.