As many seniors around the world receive college decisions, high school juniors are starting to get serious about the college application process. Yet with cancelled standardized tests, changes in high school grading systems, and college campus closures, the future of college admissions looks uncertain.
For college coaches, this uncertainty poses obstacles to the recruitment process. These coaches rely on in-person tournaments, camps, and prospect days to see potential players on the field, court, or track. On March 13, the NCAA halted all in-person recruitment in accordance with social distancing guidelines; Wesleyan also put an end to on-campus visits.
These restrictions affect each sport differently. Since women’s lacrosse has camps in June, Coach Kim Williams already saw many players in the fall and filmed those tournaments. Coach Michael Fried of men’s and women’s tennis had the chance to travel to a tournament to scout prospects at the end of December.
Other sports have been more affected. Football’s March prospect day was canceled; field hockey had scheduled an on-campus prospect day for April 19, which has now been canceled as well. Athletes who intended to come to camps in the spring can participate in summer camps, yet the consolidated tournaments pose challenges for coaches who will have to see many more recruits at one time. Still, there’s a chance these summer camps and tournaments might not happen at all.
Coaches at Wesleyan are trying to make the most of the situation, using the resources they have to connect with recruits online.
“I think it’s the additional things that coaches are doing during this time that will stick out,” field hockey coach Christine Kemp said. “Maybe that’s added communication, extra content being sent out..If [students] don’t hear from you, they’re going to be like, this is really weird. We have to take advantage of what we have.”
As coaches increase their online communication with students, Wesleyan coaches have found that prospective students are doing the same.
“I am finding more high school juniors are using this time to reach out to me and let me know of their interest in Wesleyan and our basketball program,” men’s basketball coach Joseph Reilly wrote in an email to The Argus.
Football coach Dan DiCenzo has received a similar communication influx.
“We’re getting a lot of emails…from high school kids right now because they’re a little bored, and they want to be active,” DiCenzo said. “I think they’re doing what everyone else is doing, trying to stay home and be safe. As soon as [camps] open up, they’re going to want to do a lot of them.”
Spring sport coaches are already accustomed to this type of recruitment; during their seasons, they do much of their recruitment online. Now that they have extra time off the field, these coaches have more opportunity to stay connected with their recruits.
“The biggest thing for us that we’re trying to focus on now is earlier communication back with our 2021s than we normally get when we’re in season,” coach Williams said. “We’re so excited to be in season, and when February comes around recruiting is not at the forefront for us. It’s being on the field, preparing for games. We’ve really cycled back to catching up with all of our recruits…we’re checking in on how they’re doing with the situation, what their season changes have been, any academic changes.”
While spring sports usually have online recruitment during their seasons, Coach Fried noted that the spring is also a popular time for recruits to come visit campus.
“The recruiting we’d be doing at this time of year is almost exclusively electronic,” Fried said. “The only thing that’s changed really is that we’re not welcoming several of those recruits to come take visits over the next couple of months…things are changing so fast there’s clearly a chance, fingers crossed for the world, that we’re welcoming people back in the summertime or fall.”
Without campus visits, current coaches can’t get a sense of how a recruit fits in with their current team, and recruits can’t get a sense for the school and their potential teammates.
To cope with the campus closure, Coach Kemp is getting creative.
“For recruits that haven’t been to campus, we’ve been doing some Google Hangouts and video chats,” Kemp said. “We’re face to face, so to speak. Some of our players will come in and answer their questions. I’ll have them describe what a class is like because normally when they come they can sit in on a class…I’m trying to replicate [a campus visit] as best as possible and do as much as we can without them actually coming to campus.”
Outside of tournaments, prospect days and campus visits, the last part of the recruitment equation is academics. Recruits send coaches their academic transcript at the end of their junior year for admissions feedback. Although Wesleyan is test-optional, recruits must send their test scores to get their feedback.
Now that standardized tests have gone online or been cancelled, and some high schools have gone pass/fail, there’s no telling how academic changes will affect these early reads.
“[Students’] transcripts aren’t going to look the same,” Coach Kemp remarked. “They’re not going to look the same against each other. Are admissions going to be more lenient? More strict?”
Although there’s academic uncertainty, Coach Williams is focused on what her recruits can control.
“I think that every school is going to be understanding of the academic process,” she said. “I think we’re all just navigating that as well…We don’t know when the next test will be, but we can control what their grades are right now and having the best junior year possible.”
For now, coaches are focused on what they can control as well, staying connected with their recruits and their current teams.
“We just had a great Zoom meeting with all returning players in our program,” Coach Reilly wrote. “We are scattered across the country and it was good to have that virtual connection. Our primary focus as a team is to make sure we are supporting each other emotionally during this stressful time and that we are mission-focused on attacking the distant learning curriculum.”
Coach Williams, whose season was interrupted by the NESCAC cancellations, has continued to remain close with her team online.
“It’s hard for every single person in different ways,” Coach Williams said. “We’re taking pressure out of the equation because everyone’s situation is different…we want to create a lot of opportunities to connect with each other. My girls are loving cooking right now. We’re doing a movie or book club. We’re having different classes running Zoom calls and doing different themes of the week. We’re just trying to connect with them as much as possible. It’s a very different season for us than we’re used to, but we’re trying to make the most of what we’re working with now.”
Zoë Kaplan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.