COVID-19 has brought changes to college recruitment for athletics.
By Cameron Smith, ’21 and Luke Eriksen, ’22.
As fall sports seasons have come to a close, many UAHS athletes are seeking attention from college programs, but new COVID-19 guidelines in place have hindered the normal recruitment process. The rules for the NCAA recruiting process vary depending on the state where a college is located as well as the division of the college.
Due to recommended social distancing guidelines, new COVID-19 procedures at UAHS have limited the number of spectators at each game. This not only limits the ability of students to watch games but also prevents college scouts from attending to watch players. Since many coaches are not able to come in-person, athletes can send their game highlights to coaches. Athletes such as senior football player Michael Ballenger have taken to uploading their game film to social media as a way to gain interest from different coaches.
“[Not having] visits has made it a lot more difficult [to get recruited]. After every game, I make a little tape of the game [and] then send it to coaches on Twitter and through email,” Ballenger said.
As of now, Ballenger has been contacted by a variety of schools including University of Toledo, University of Buffalo and University of Akron. Recruiting for football has been especially difficult amid COVID-19, with the variety of different stages of schools being open.
Senior lineman Jack Flowers also had a difficult time with his recruiting process throughout the current pandemic. Compared to recruiting before the outbreak in the United States, the process looks very different.
“Recruiting was at an all time high for me. Whether I was calling, texting or direct messaging [schools or coaches], it always felt like I was talking to a recruiting coordinator,” Flowers said.
Flowers still faced challenges with being unable to visit, though.
“Even though I was always in contact with coaches, it was still pretty hard because I couldn’t visit any of the schools that I was interested in,” Flowers said.
Once the pandemic broke, it launched a recruiting dead period where no Division I college athletic teams could recruit.
“The dead period kept getting pushed back further and further, and now it’s set to open back up on Jan. 1, but who knows at this point,” Flowers said.
Flowers recently concluded his senior football season and is still waiting for coaches to reach out. He understands, though, as college football is starting up again, that this is a stressful time for coaches across the United States.
“Recently with our season starting up and college football returning, recruiting has slowed down because coaches are super busy, but they still have to make time if they really want to find a roster spot for you,” Flowers said.
Other athletes have committed to schools despite the pandemic such as senior field hockey player
Elizabeth Cramer. Cramer began the process her freshman year. Despite this, the pandemic still affected her recruitment process even with offers before the season had begun. Cramer recently committed to Kenyon for field hockey but was unable to visit other schools with interest during the fall. If she had, Cramer may have made a different decision.
“I had already seen Kenyon, but I had three or four visits lined up this fall. They were postponed or canceled, so that helped me decide. I think my decision could have been different, but I love Kenyon and they have been talking with me the longest. Who knows what could have happened,” Cramer said.
Playing for club teams in the summer is popular for field hockey players with aspirations of playing in college, but COVID-19 prevented senior field hockey player Lucy DeVita from having a normal spring and summer season, too.
“Unless you are constantly sending film to coaches from high school games, you will get recognized more in clubs. If you want to play in college, I feel like you have to play club,” DeVita said.
One of the biggest club tournaments of the year takes place at ESPN’s facility in Disney World. This tournament was also canceled over the summer due to the ongoing pandemic, but the tournament is usually a golden opportunity for all players with college aspirations because of the long list of college coaches that annually attend.
“I went [to Disney] the last two years, and it’s one of the biggest tournaments for recruiting. There’s a huge list of coaches and you can look at the website and email whoever you want,” DeVita said.
DeVita is still trying to decide whether she should play in college. She is visiting select schools that allow visits while she decides.
“The biggest thing is that I haven’t been able to visit non-field hockey related schools, so I’m really not sure if I want to go to a big school,” DeVita said.
Athletes in fall sports have had a difficult time with recruitment in terms of not being able to visit schools that are interested in them, but hopeful college athletes in spring sports are able to go on visits in the near future as their season hasn’t started yet.
Senior Philip Vilardo, shortstop for the UA baseball team, has multiple visits scheduled with schools that he plans to take in the coming months to go along with the few visits he has already taken.
“I have a few visits planned but recently I have visited both Heidelberg and Adrian College in Michigan,” Vilardo said.
Vilardo does plan on playing in college but is ultimately still looking for the right destination for him to play.
“I love going on visits because it gives me an idea of what I’m looking for in a school,” Vilardo said.
Unlike Flowers who currently has Division I aspirations,
Vilardo is being heavily pursued by Division III baseball teams that are looking to fill their recruiting classes and don’t have to oblige by the dead period that Division I teams do.
“This pandemic has caused a dead period amongst the Division I schools which has allowed for Division III baseball programs to recruit me even harder because they aren’t competing with the Division I programs,” Vilardo said.
Vilardo currently holds offers from multiple schools, including Heidelberg University and Adrian College. Despite visiting both, Vilardo is still unsure of where he will end up playing, but overall, he is grateful for the opportunities these schools have offered him.
“It’s always been my dream to continue playing baseball and I am very grateful that these schools saw that dream and are willing to give me the opportunity to continue playing. No matter where I end up, I am grateful for the offers,” Vilardo said.