How Coronavirus, Extended NCAA Dead Period Are Affecting Recruiting
The NCAA’s Division I Council Coordination Committee on Wednesday announced that the recruiting dead period—during which in-person contact with recruits and off-campus recruiting is prohibited—will be extended until June 30. The NCAA reverted into a dead period March 13, the day after the College World Series and every other winter and spring sports championship was canceled.
Already, baseball has lost nine weeks of its contact period—when coaches can have in-person communication and recruit off campus. The dead period will now continue for five more (the last week of May was already a scheduled dead period for baseball) and the NCAA has already committed to review the dead period dates at the end of May and “could extend the dead period at that time.” Both the men’s and the women’s basketball coaches' associations have already proposed extending the dead period until the end of July, a move that would eliminate their biggest recruiting period.
In-season recruiting is a balancing act for baseball coaches, but the spring is an important recruiting time for coaches around the country. The recruiting calendar heats up even more once the college regular season ends and coaches turn their attention to summer travel ball events.
Turning the spring—and now the summer—into a dead period effects recruits and coaches alike. Its affecting everyone a little bit differently, however. As college baseball prepares for an extended dead period, we can take stock of what’s happening on the recruiting trail.
Who Is Most Affected?
Around college baseball, nearly everyone points to the high school class of 2021 as the most impacted by the dead period. College baseball recruiting has accelerated and the top players in the class are nearly all committed at this point. Only 19 of the top 300 players in the class, according to Perfect Game, are uncommitted. But a much higher percentage of players below that tier is not committed. Those players are the ones coaches point to as most affected by the dead period.
“It hurts rising seniors and schools that work slower,” one recruiting coordinator said. “A lot of kids commit to solid programs going into June of their senior year.”
“If you don’t have ‘21s right now, you’d be like, ‘What in the world are we going to do?’ ” another recruiting coordinator said. “There are guys who are uncommitted who are going to end up in junior college because we’re not going to be able to see them.”
College baseball’s powerhouses have, for the most part, filled up their 2021 class, maybe holding open a spot or two for a late bloomer or a decommitment. But many other programs around the country are not done with their 2021 class. The summer before a player’s senior year of high school is an important developmental time and plenty of players make strides during that time that ultimately lead to them getting offered a scholarship. With coaches unable to see and track those players, there is less time to find the late bloomers.
From the players’ perspective, not having a high school season means less developmental time to make those leaps. And now if the summer is going to be limited, those opportunities will be further decreased. Many players haven’t been seen by college recruiters since at least fall ball and more still, especially those that also play football, haven’t been seen since last summer.
So, for any uncommitted 2021 prospect, this is especially difficult. A player who has some offers but was holding off on committing to try to give himself more time to develop and make that jump is now missing out on that opportunity, and a player who is hoping to score an offer will have less chances to be seen.
“I feel for the rising senior that’s a good ballplayer,” one recruiting coordinator said. “He probably needs to slow down and say, ‘Maybe guys will see me play in the fall of my senior year or even in the spring.’ ”
But beyond all the missed chances at getting evaluated, the Class of 2021 is facing another squeeze. When the Division I Council granted all springs sports athletes an extra year of eligibility, it effectively created a system where programs have five classes on scholarship at once. But baseball’s roster-building rules are designed for a system with four classes. Those effects will be mitigated next year when seniors are exempted from all roster caps (the 35-man roster and 11.7 scholarships split among a maximum of 27 players). How many seniors will choose to return isn’t clear either, as they only learned of the option at the end of March, a time when many had already lined up jobs or graduate school and now have to weigh that against the cost of returning for another year in a partial scholarship sport. Those with professional aspirations must deal with a dramatically shortened five-round draft and a cap of $20,000 on bonuses for nondrafted free agents.
The junior class, however, has a full year to decide whether to make use of that extra eligibility and prepare for it, both financially and academically. So, while some coaches have found a way to honor their scholarship offers to the Class of 2020 and accommodate returning seniors thanks to the relaxed roster rules, it’s unclear whether those same opportunities will exist in 2022. That means that even at schools where their 2021 recruiting class may not be filled, coaches are in some cases more hesitant to put out additional offers. That, again, leads to less opportunity.
"It adds a variable that will cause us to pause from making more offers, not knowing if juniors will come back or not," one mid-major head coach said.
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Which Programs Are Most Affected?
While the dead period is clearly a detriment to the coaches, who want to go out and see players, they understand they can only do so much right now. The roster crunch and uncertainty of the roster rules in 2022 would force many to slow down even if they were allowed to be on the road.
There’s a question as to whether they would even be allowed on the road if the dead period were lifted. As athletic departments around the country look for ways to limit expenditures, travel is an easy part of the budget to cut from. In states where shelter-in-place orders remain, there is no baseball to see and using university funds to travel out of state may be prohibited.
Because of that, it’s hard to say which programs are most affected by the dead period’s extension. While mid-major schools are more likely to be the ones still working on their 2021 recruiting class, they also are the ones that likely would have their travel budgets cut the most. Major conference schools might be able to get personnel out on the road if they could, but they are largely done with their 2021 class and most recruiting coordinators believe they’ll be able to make up the lost time with 2022 and 2023 recruits once they can get back to recruiting.
The coaches hurt most by the dead period are the volunteer assistants. Schools are not allowed to host camps or clinics during dead periods and that is what funds the volunteer assistant position. While some schools typically start holding camps in June, the camp season really heats up in July and any further extension of the dead period will have a significant impact on the finances of the volunteer assistants.
How Is The Recruiting Process Adapting?
Even in a dead period, some recruiting activity can take place. Coaches can call (on phone or video) and text recruits. They can review video and talk to high school and travel coaches and other contacts to get names to add to their boards.
The NCAA also relaxed some of its restrictions on what kind of remote recruiting can take place. Any staff member—such as a strength coach or an academic advisor—can now join a call between a coach and a recruit. It also waived a restriction on the number of unsigned recruits that can be on a call at once, enabling a coach to gather his entire 2021 recruiting class together, for instance. Current players can also join a recruiting call. Those changes were designed to simulate the kind of experience a recruit would be able to get during a normal campus visit.
Those measures can only go so far. Recruits still aren’t getting to see the campus or the facilities. Coaches aren’t getting to watch them play live, where they can evaluate things that aren’t always evident on video.
But, like many other Americans, coaches are trying to evaluate whether some of the changes they’ve made to their processes could carry over once they’re allowed back out on the road again. At least temporarily while budgets are so tight, they may have to learn how to do more evaluating on video or connecting to recruits and families on the phone.
“I think what’s helped in this time is actually talking to kids and developing rapport,” another recruiting coordinator said. “Understanding them and how their personality comes out. You get a better feel for the person.”
As with everything in college baseball recruiting, there are many coaches who are carefully watching how these changes affect recruiting high school underclassmen. Many are hoping that losing time on the road slows down the process, as coaches won’t have been able to see those players in person. But they also worry that it won’t have that effect and underclassmen will end up accepting offers without going through typical steps in the recruiting process like a campus visit.
More than anything, many coaches want to be able to get back on the road to recruit but understand why the NCAA has instituted the dead period. While they’re eager to get back to normal, they’re understanding that it may not come this summer.
“I know recruiting is a lot of work but sometimes it frees you up because you learn things,” one recruiting coordinator said. “But I’m not sitting here complaining you can’t go. It makes sense. I think everything the NCAA has done makes sense.”