HIGH SCHOOL: THE RECRUITING BASICS

HIGH SCHOOL: THE RECRUITING BASICS

In the NCAA, there are about 550 Division I and II women’s basketball coaches looking to give out roughly 8,000 scholarships through a highly regulated, an occasionally Byzantine, process.

So naturally, when you start talking about understanding the recruiting rules the conversation usually starts with the collegiate coaches and then moves towards the compliance community responsible for their education: the NCAA, their Conference office, and their institution’s compliance officer. In the past few years, even the WBCA has become involved, creating the Division I Compliance Corner (http://www.wbca.org/ComplianceCorner.asp).

But what about the high school coaches and their potential student-athletes? Are they getting information on the dos and don’ts of the recruiting dance? And if so, how?

LEARING APACE

Many long-time high school coaches have simply learned the process as the game has grown and use the NCAA’s “Guide for the College-Bound Student-Athlete” as their touchstone. [http://www.ncaa.org/library/general/cbsa/2007-08/2007-08_cbsa.pdf] Consider, for instance, Sacred Heart Cathedral (San Francisco) coach Brian Harrigan.

This year, Harrigan’s team was No. 1 in the USA TODAY Super 25 girl’s basketball rankings and won its third consecutive California Division III title. He was also named the first-ever recipient of the Naismith National High School Coach of the Year award. Back when began his career in 1981, “I didn’t have any recruitable athletes,” said Harrigan. “But I honestly never even thought about it because the game was still evolving.” As his first recruitable players began appearing in the late 90’s, he developed a system to educate and guide his students and their parents through the process.

“What we do is any athlete who is going to be a junior who we thing has an opportunity to play either Division I, II or III, we meet with them, along with our athletic directors, in October before the season starts. We give them the whole NCAA handbook and we go through it step by step. We talk about the Clearinghouse [https://web1.ncaa.org/eligibilitycenter/common/], we talk about test scores, what they need to get. We go over when colleges can contact you. We try and educate our parents on the process, because a lot of our parents aren’t [about] what the colleges can and can’t do.” If there’s a question or confusion about a rule, Harrigan doesn’t hesitate to reach out to a college coach for guidance.

As the sophomore and junior year college letters arrive, “we tell our parents, whether it’s from Tennessee or Whatsamatter U. you fill it out and send it back. Leave all doors wide open. As a program,” he added, “we don’t get caught up in, ‘Yeah, we’re getting recruited, but we’re no getting recruited by the big schools. That’s okay. I’ve coached 27 years and we’ve been pretty successful.”

When it’s time for a student submit information for their academic and amateur eligibility, a staff member helps walk them through the steps. “The process has really helped our kids, along with our counseling system,” said Harrigan. As a result, “I’ve found that the colleges have been very appreciative of that. They find our players and our parents understand the process of what’s going on. They tell me they go some places and they say the word “Clearinghouse” and people don’t know what they’re talking about.”

MOVING FROM HOUSE TO CENTER
Actually, what “people don’t know about” is not the “Clearinghouse” anymore, for it has been quietly overthrown by the Eligibility Center.

Many will recall that back in October of 2006, the NCAA added an amateur certification component to the duties of the Initial-Eligibility Clearinghouse. For years, the certification process for prospective student-athletes had been administered by an outside agency, the American College Testing, Inc. But in January of 2007, the Association announced the creation of the Eligibility Center, bringing the initial-eligibility and amateurism certification functions together under the sole auspices of the NCAA. The Center’s virtual doors opened in November of ’07 with a goal of “increased efficiency and enhanced customer service to the membership, prospective student-athletes and their parents,” said the NCAA press release.

“One of the big initiatives with the Eligibility Center is its education piece,” explained Lynn Holzman, Director of Client Services. “There’s a great opportunity to make sure these prospects get off on the right foot, but also to make sure they have a great experience as an NCAA student athlete. And it starts with that initial interaction with the Eligibility Center as they’re trying to get eligible to play. The way the operations are developing, they have opportunities that the old Clearinghouse did not to push information out to prospects. Now that we have this pool of emails for prospects, what can we do to so that they’re properly informed and how do we prioritize what that information is?”

“We know we’re about academic and amateur certification, so inherently in that people need to know how many core courses they need to be eligible, etc. But also, what do we need to push to them about banned drugs, gambling, and recruiting rules?”

ABOUT THOSE RECRUITING RULES

“In my experience,” noted Holzman, “there are rules that are more important for the prospects to know and then there are rules that it’s completely incumbent on the [college] coach to know. For example, a prospect needs to know they can only take so many official visits. They definitely need to know that, and they need to plan accordingly. Does the prospect need to absolutely know how many days a coach is charge if they go to a tournament? No. They just need to know when coaches can evaluate them. “

Which is why there is an emphasis on making sure that the information on the Eligibility website is specifically aimed to the student-athlete prospect’s needs and is presented in a format that avoids what one might charitably call “NCAA-speak.” For instance, the Guide for the College-bound Student athlete is now under the purview of the Center and provides a clear, accessible outline of the key recruiting rules – permitted contacts, all-star games, agent issues, etc. “Two or three years ago we had a consultant come in and rewrite the Guide to try and do it in clear plain language,” said Holzman. ”Since that was initially done, there continues to be things that are improved on. That’s the NCAA making a concerted effort and investment in getting that information out there.”

THE AD HOC HIGH SCHOOL COMPLIANCE COMMUNITY

Proactively getting recruiting information out to the high school coach or student can be a tad daunting, especially when faced with some raw numbers. The National Federation of High School Association noted that last year that almost 460,000 girls participated in high school basketball. Rough math suggests that means about 41,000 high school coaches and, say, 115,000 student-athletes per grade level. Realistically, only small fraction of that group may be interested and talented enough to earn a scholarship. Even assuming (erroneously, I’m sure) the top 100, most highly recruited athletes are well versed in the regulations, that leaves 7,900 athletes and their various coaches scattered on teams across the country needing accurate and up-to-date information.

So what are the NCAA’s options?

“At the WBCA convention, when they have their high school sessions,” explained Holzman, “we have an NCAA staff member that goes in to say, “Here’s the big things, the changes or the big issues you need to be aware of this year as it relates to women’s basketball recruiting.” Unfortunately, and not surprisingly, the sessions are not well attended because high school coaches have such limited budgets. Three years ago Holzman had an audience of 15.

While the National Federation of High School Associations has some responsibility, “that’s not their purpose of their organization,” she explained. “So the high school coaches have to find that information other ways. Often times they can call us as a staff and ask questions. We respond to those questions and will send them to similar resources (like the Guide).”

Often the most direct contact the NCAA may have with a prospective student-athlete is through AAU camps and some of the certified events in the summer because they include the Complete Athlete Program. CAP is an educational program designed for athletes, coaches, and family members with content focused on NCAA academic rules and regulations, life skills, and sportsmanship. “Although that may be more targeted to the prospects,” said Holzman “you have the coaches standing around – hopefully they’re getting something out of it, too.”

FAUX INFORMATION

One challenge potential recruits face are the multiple “We Can Help You Get Recruited” websites or organizations that identifies itself as a recruiting or scouting service. While the Eligibility Center might consider developing a wing that addresses a prospect recruiting strategies, currently the NCAA does not endorse or approve or sanction any such organization.

“There are so many companies, and some of them are fly-by-night,” said Holzman. “And the reality is, a lot of them are posting inaccurate information. But because they have that [illegally used] NCAA logo sitting there, people think we have some involvement with them.” Of course, she acknowledged, “those organizations may contact us and say, ‘Can we do this?’ and we may say, ‘Based on what you have just told us, you can do it this way.’ But we don’t know if after they get off that phone or after we’ve written them a letter they change something. And all of a sudden, what they’re doing may jeopardize the eligibility of one of their prospects because they’re acting like an agent.”

YOU CAN LEAD A HORSE TO WATER, BUT…

“The difference between now and when I was recruited to play [at Kansas State, ’91] is that there is a lot more information out there,” reflected Holzman. “But that hasn’t necessarily resulted in people being better informed. That’s one of the challenges we often see. Someone says, “We need to educate prospects more,” or “We need to educate high school coaches more.” Okay, we’ll put together educational information, we can go out and we can target instances where there’s going to be a high level of attendance. But, not everyone’s there. And we still may have a coach who, all of a sudden, they have one recruit in their career who’s going to be able to play Division I or Division II college basketball and they’ve never experienced this before. How do you get to that individual? Right now, what the answer has been is, ‘We have the information out there — if the go to find it.’”

“The challenge is how do they know where to go? And, when they get there, the information changes just by virtue of the internet and because of the way legislation changes in the NCAA. How do you know what you looked at six months ago is still the rule today?”

“I think the Eligibility Center’s long term strategies and objectives will get at some of those issues.”

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