By Shoshanna Rutemiller and Jeff Commings
Editor's Note: The commentaries below follow last week's news that the NCAA was lifting communication restrictions for recruiting purposes.
She Said (Shoshanna Rutemiller)
The NCAA recently released a new set of streamlined rules, tackling topics from allowing athletes to accept limited prize money to instating more stringent academic requirements. The goal was to use “common sense” when writing the rulebook, a novel idea first presented by NCAA president Mark Emmert in 2011.
Naturally, coaches and universities want a rulebook that cuts both nit-picky and convoluted rules and restrictions. For the most part, that's what they got. But one amendment in the rulebook was particularly striking: Amendment 13-3 “…will eliminate restrictions on methods and modes of communication during recruiting.” This amendment allows coaches unlimited access in contacting recruits through personal visits, phone, texting, e-mail, print mail and all social media platforms.
Top recruits, this is when you start cringing. Those annoying phone calls? They'll be more frequent and start earlier. Then, when you start ignoring the phone, expect texts, Facebook messages, paper pamphlets and home and club visits from multiple coaches. Schools will try to top others schools' recruiting efforts; it will be the snowball effect in action.
But walk-ons, fear not! The home phone calls you never got, the personal visits you never received… expect nothing to change. You will still have to contact the coaching staff and discuss competing collegiately without scholarship. All of the extra energy coaches are allowed to invest in recruiting will go exactly where it always has: into the highest-performing high school upperclassmen.
But before I delve deeper, let me take you through a personal rewind: At 14, I was nationally ranked in my age group in the 200 butterfly, training under former US National team director Dennis Pursley. Since he approached coaching with the philosophy of building both physically and mentally strong athletes, pushing them to their breaking point, it was common for our two and a half hour practices to top 10,000 yards. And, being a butterflyer, over sixty percent of that yardage was the dreaded stroke.
But in the three years of development from age group swimmer to potential college recruit, I hit a wall, struggling to even match my age group times. By 17, I was (at best) Division I walk-on material. Even so, I felt compelled to compete collegiately.
I was accepted as a walk-on at Arizona State University in the fall of 2008. I struggled through the practices and a new weight lifting regime, and had minimal improvement my freshman collegiate season. But I persisted, and the summer before my sophomore year the new style of training finally clicked. My first breakthrough was cutting nearly three second in the 100 butterfly at the 2009 US Open Championships. By our winter invitational meet, I had swum best times in nearly every event.
Finally, I was being cheered on again. The support and enthusiasm from my coaches and teammates added passion to my pursuit. I found a new level of discipline and drive in and out of the pool. Weeks before the Pac-10 Championships, at a dual meet against the University of Arizona, I touched the wall two seconds below my once nationally-ranked best time in the 200 butterfly. Finally, my swimming career felt complete.
But what if I hadn't been persistent in my quest to swim collegiately? Numerous others in my class were lost in the shuffle and ended up as the overlooked, yet hard working athletes who quietly concluded their swimming careers in high school. They missed the deep levels of dedication, perseverance, goal setting and sportsmanship gained through collegiate athletics.
If you are a potential walk-on, don't take for granted that you'll never get a home phone call from Teri McKeever. Take the time to make coaches aware of your intentions. Facebook message the head coach at your dream university. Call them, e-mail them. Heck, even drop by one of their practices if you're in the area. As much energy as coaches put into talking to the Missy Franklins of your class, you can put equal energy into making sure you are happy as a collegiate athlete. A little PR goes a long way. Believe me, you won't regret it.
And coaches, the walk-on who shows up to practice early, puts in the hours in study hall and stays late working on turns and starts? That swimmer — the one that was never flown across the country for a recruiting trip — is the heart and soul of your team. That is the swimmer that is going to tell high school athletes that the best decision they ever made was to continue swimming in college. These are the swimmers that make up your team's core. And ever swimmer knows: a strong core is key to success.
He Said (Jeff Commings)
My esteemed colleague comes from the era of iPhones glued to your ear and instant gratification. I come from an age when email was still an amazing invention, and we were still writing letters, putting them in envelopes and waiting a week for the next correspondence. Yep, I'm old, so before I continue … get off my lawn!
Will any college coach in the United States radically change their recruiting strategies with the approval of the new NCAA policies? What can be gained from being allowed to call that one recruit who's on the fence 15 times a day? And what would the conversation topic be around the 10th call?
Coach: “Yeah, Mike. I know we just spoke on the phone 45 minutes ago, but I'm just calling to find out what type of goggles you wear during workout.”
Mike: “I wear Swedish goggles.”
Coach: “That's great. I think you'll fit in here at University X because every swimmer owns five pairs of Swedish goggles. OK, just thought I'd check in. Bye.”
How many phone calls, emails, Facebook messages and Tweets does a coach need to send to a recruit? I was one of the top recruits of the Class of 1991, and I don't remember getting more than three or four phone calls from each of the coaches who seriously recruited me. The first call (at least an hour long) was to gauge my interest in their school. The second was to arrange a visit, the third was to discuss the visit and the fourth phone call consisted of logistics regarding making my college choice.
Any coach who feels like their shackles have been loosened as a result of this news is going about recruiting in the wrong way. Sometimes, less is more. Think about those robo-calls you got during the presidential election. Did you get more excited with each “personal” call you answered? I didn't think so.
But let's look at the other side of the coin, continuing to use the presidential election as an example. If I were on the fence about which candidate to vote for in the election, maybe it would be best to constantly contact them with questions and concerns about picking them. Sometimes, your gut isn't always right.
In this regard, it's great that recruits are still able to call coaches at all hours of the day to help narrow down their choices, instead of bemoaning that there is a “dark period” of conversation after they have reached their conversation limit. Coaches could see this constant communication as a good sign. It means they are still in the running.
I might have been that type of recruit 22 years ago, though my only communication outlet would have been a telephone. I struggled with my decision until the last minute, though I do not regret attending the University of Texas. If I had the freedom to contact coaches with no limits, I might have done so happily.