NCAA Announces Recruiting Rule Changes

The NCAA on Wednesday announced the Division I Council has approved new recruiting legislation that will go into effect next school year with the intent of regulating a process that has sped up considerably in recent years.

High school athletes will now be allowed to begin taking official visits, which are paid for by the school and limited in the number allowed, on Sept. 1 of their junior year. Currently, players cannot begin taking official visits until the first day of classes their senior year.

Additionally, athletic department personnel—including coaches—will be barred from participating in an athlete’s unofficial visit, which are unlimited and schools are prohibited from paying for—until Sept. 1 of their junior year. Further, recruiting conversations during on-campus camps or clinics are prohibited until Sept. 1 of the athlete’s junior year.

The changes are a radical departure from the current system. Typically, schools host one large official visit weekend in the fall and bring in all of the players in that year’s recruiting class. Now, official visits will be spread out over two years, a change that is likely to increase expenses for schools and tie up assistant coaches more often.

The changes to the unofficial visit rules will likely mark the end of freshmen and sophomores taking unofficial visits, as those athletes will no longer be able to see facilities like clubhouses, training rooms and batting cages or talk with coaches or players. Schools won’t even be able to leave tickets to games for prospective players.

The changes come following a period when the earlier recruiting cycle has come under more scrutiny. Lacrosse last year passed rules even more restrictive than these changes and softball on Wednesday adopted those rules as well.

Florida Atlantic coach John McCormack, who was a part of the American Baseball Coaches Association’s committee formed to study the recruiting cycle, said he was in support of delaying unofficial visits, but worried about the financial impact of earlier official visits. Overall, he thought the changes were good.

“I think the recruiting in every sport needed some sanity,” he said. “It’s good to give the young kids a chance to grow up and mature before they have to sit down and make decisions that affect their life trajectory.”

Baseball—which has seen the typical elite player’s recruiting process sped up nine months in just the last three years, moving his college decision from his junior year to before his sophomore season—was working to establish its own preferred recruiting rules. In December, the ABCA committee of 16 coaches met in Charlotte to work on improving the recruiting calendar and examine the question of prep underclassmen committing to college. At the time, the committee was told the NCAA would likely set Sept. 1 of athletes’ sophomore years as the point when athletic department personnel would be able to become involved in unofficial visits.

Louisville coach Dan McDonnell served on the committee and said there was consensus in the room that beginning unofficial visits at the start of a player’s sophomore year was a good compromise. But he and other coaches feel delaying unofficial visits until the start of a player’s junior year is too long.

Now, if players commit before Sept. 1 of their junior year, they will do so without the chance to get an up-close look at the program. If they wait until Sept. 1 of their junior year, they may find themselves the subject of a bidding war—which could lead to higher scholarship offers but will also likely create an environment where they are pressured to quickly decide.

“Now, as they please, when they want, on their terms, players can go where they want and see what schools you want and commit when you want,” McDonnell said. “It’s going to be a bidding war. Who’s to say kids aren’t going to be pressured into taking it.”

The rule changes do have proponents among coaches who felt that recruiting was getting out of hand as it became increasingly common for players to commit to college as ninth graders or even eighth graders. But it remains to be seen how the changes the NCAA announced Wednesday—which cover all sports except football and basketball—will affect college baseball and prep baseball players.

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