How the COVID-19 Pandemic is Affecting College Recruiting

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How the COVID-19 Pandemic is Affecting College Recruiting

COVID-19 dramatically altered the lives of swimmers everywhere, particularly those of high school swimmers attempting to navigate the recruiting process and its new restrictions.

College recruitment usually begins June 15, between swimmers’ sophomore and junior years of high school. But in the wake of a pandemic, the NCAA made the decision in March to enact a recruiting dead period, suspending on campus recruiting until April 15, 2020. The dead period has since been extended to April 15, 2021.

A recruiting dead period transforms the way high school swimmers interact with college coaches and teams. The NCAA defines a dead period as a time in which “a college coach may not have face-to-face contact with college-bound student-athletes or their parents, and may not watch student-athletes compete or visit their high schools.”

Thus, prospective college athletes on the brink of the most intense part of their recruitment processes were unexpectedly subjected to the unusual circumstances of fully digital recruiting. Zoom, interactive virtual tours, social media and other technological tools that universities have at their disposal certainly ease this process. However, an all-online process can make it difficult to discern a convincing facade from reality.

A high school senior from Highlands Ranch, Colorado, Lindsey Wehr committed to the University of Minnesota in July. She said the recruitment dead period went into effect in what felt like the middle of her process.

“As the restrictions for COVID-19 became more strict schools began to get pushier, which made me cut out some of my options,” she said. “I ended up looking at completely different schools during COVID-19 than I was before.”

Wehr’s recruitment during the dead period was characterized by frequent phone calls and Facetimes with college coaches, and a few Zoom calls with teams. She said the biggest challenge on these calls was discerning whether teams actually had the “family-like” connections they promised.

“I think the calls were helpful, but at the same time it was very difficult to figure out how bonded the teams actually were,” said Wehr. “I couldn’t tell if they were putting out the red carpet or actually being straight with me.”

For Wehr, visiting campuses was important in deciding where to commit, even if she wouldn’t get to interact with athletic staff or swimmers. She flew out to see her top three schools in person, which she said was extremely beneficial in making a final decision.

Conversely, Tiffanie Ruan committed to a school she’d never visited. The senior from Bowlingbrook, Illinois had already picked her final three schools by the time COVID-19 struck, favoring Northwestern, Georgia Tech and Southern Methodist University. Ruan took an official visit to Georgia Tech, and was able to visit the Northwestern campus that is located just an hour away from her home. In August, she committed to SMU, the only school out of her top three she hadn’t seen in person.

Ruan was able to make the decision confidently by conducting her own research about the SMU team and academic programs, looking into resources directed to her by the coaches, and participating in a virtual visit.

“I got to meet a lot of people working there like the athletic director and the academic advisor,” she said. She also met the team on the call, which she said was important in her decision making.

Both Wehr and Ruan said their biggest advice for college recruits is to ask questions.

“Honestly, when quarantine happened I halted my process for a couple of months because I didn’t know what to do,” said Ruan. “I was hoping COVID-19 would end by the time my junior year was over so I could actually take visit,s but obviously that’s not the case. So I would say just don’t be afraid to ask questions and learn more about where you want to go because you’re going to be spending the next four years there.”

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2 years ago

My daughter had visited 2 schools in fall of junior year. During COVID, all trips other were cancelled. We flew to one school to just walk around the campus. She did zooms with the team and coaches and ended up committing there. This has been a crazy process!! It has been really challenging for a friend of mine whose daughter is in soccer. She was banking on being able to go to recruiting events all throughout the spring and summer. Now that is completely dead and many of her top schools are no longer on her list because those recruiting events never happened and the coaches never got to see her play. The coaches don’t really know what to do about the situation either.

2 years ago

My daughter is a junior and going through the process now. Because she doesn’t want to pick a school without visiting the campus and surrounding area, we flew out West and rented a car and drove back across the country stopping at 7 schools that she is interested in. A rare silver lining from the dead period extension is the bonding experience we had together during our work around.