Taking a Step Back From the Recruiting Process

Matt Fallon - Recruiting Process

Taking a Step Back From the Recruiting Process

The college recruiting process is a turbulent time. For athletes, the choices they make will determine their experience over the next four years. I know this from my own experience with the process, from September 2018 to September 2019. While I juggled many different schools during that year, I ultimately settled on Columbia University. Although it was difficult to pass up the prestige and potential scholarships that come with committing to a Power Five school, I knew that I wanted to go to a school that would prioritize my academic experience. While the Ivy League was not necessarily the best athletic league, I knew that my decision was about more than athletics.

This was why it was a pleasant surprise for me when Matt Fallon, a top class of ’21 recruit, committed to Penn last summer. While Penn is a great program, we rarely see swimmers of Fallon’s level commit outside of the Power Five conferences. In fact, according to Collegeswimming.com, Fallon (#9) is the only swimmer in the top 40 of his class that has committed outside of the Power Five (U.S.-based swimmers only). But not everyone reacted positively. For example, after Fallon dropped a new personal best in the 200 breaststroke last week, there was some commentary that he was wasting his talents going to Penn.

This commentary was disheartening to me, as I believed that Fallon’s commitment could open the door for more top-tier recruits to consider non-Power Five schools. However, this greater idea of defining athletes solely by their athletic choices is pervasive throughout all sports. Many saw this in 2019, when Indianapolis Colts star quarterback Andrew Luck retired at just 29 years of age. The fans saw Luck as giving up on the team, rather than seeing him as protecting his own health by retiring. There was a lack of consideration for the other factors that exist in our lives beyond just sports.

The reasoning for this is simple. Fans only know Fallon as a swimmer. Fans only knew Luck as a quarterback. Because of this, we often believe that every decision that these athletes make is in the interest of their sport. But such a perspective puts athletes in a box, where they only exist as athletes and not as well-rounded people. College athletes are called student-athletes for a reason: they are meant to develop themselves in both academics and sports. However, most people on the outside only ever focus on athletic achievement. This is particularly damaging because such pressure to stick to sports can limit opportunities for athletes to excel in other areas.

Another thing that comes from this pressure is second-guessing of one’s decision. For myself, I had doubts even after I made my commitment, and those were not truly quelled until I started my college experience this past September. However, doubt has become an even greater factor in this new normal of COVID-19. Under these circumstances, many recruits are unable to visit campus before making their choice. For many, the campus visit is the most important factor in their choice, and losing it can cast even further doubt on their final decision. Additionally, the recruiting process has started to come earlier and earlier for high school juniors. With NCAA rules allowing coaches to reach out earlier, the pressure to make an early decision can lead to second thoughts, which can be seen through the increase in de-commitments in the past two classes.

What does this all mean? It means that, given the increase in uncertainty for high school recruits, being limited by their athletics just acts as another source of stress. This applies to more than just national level recruits such as Fallon, though. Family members, teammates, and coaches all have a role to play in how they talk to athletes. One cause of doubt in recruits is the fear of disappointing others if they choose the wrong school. This was certainly the case for me and many of my teammates. But this is the wrong way to go about it. Recruits need to feel like they are making their own decisions. A college choice is one of the first major decisions that a young adult can make for themselves. By taking it out of their hands, we risk them feeling a lack of control over their own lives.

For those of us outside the process, this means taking a step back. The college recruiting process is exciting for everyone, but also needs to be treated delicately. The stresses of it can take their toll on recruits. I hope that we can take ourselves out of the equation, and instead allow those inside the process to choose their own path. After all, we have nothing personal to gain. All we can do is be happy for them, no matter the result. Allowing them to choose for themselves is the best help we can give.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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