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Local

Scrambling in the wake of a spring sports shutdown

Recruiters and athletes facing unexpected hurdle

With all college sports shut down for the spring season because of the coronavirus pandemic and high school spring sports as well, how will that affect college recruiting?

“I feel for all the sports that have been shut down,” Recruit Look national scouting director Tommy Canale said. “I feel more for the high school sports. That’s not to say I don’t feel bad for the collegiate sports, but I feel bad for the high school kids because those are the kids trying to get to the next level.

“My heart goes out to all the families that had a plan of what they were going to do and now it got shot down. A lot of people are scrambling and trying to figure out what’s the best plan.”

There are two big issues with recruiting at the moment, with the first being how will the NCAA, NAIA and NJCAA handle extra eligibility given to current college athletes?

“There are a lot of unknowns right now,” said Canale, former IVCC coach and athletic director. “We don’t know what the NCAA or NAIA are going to give back to these schools. The NCAA said and the NAIA followed suit that they can get the year of eligibility back if they want, but what’s not known is how the scholarships are going to work. That could eat up a lot of scholarship dollars, which could impact the incoming freshman and the junior class coming forward. There are a lot of unknown variables right now.

“My hope is the NCAA — and the NAIA and NJCAA follow suit — and say if there are three seniors on your team, we’ll allow you to have three extra scholarships to offer to incoming freshmen and be over that number for one year. That makes the most sense. From talking to coaches, everyone seems to be on board with that.”

The second issue is, what can spring high school athletes do to get exposure when there are no games and meets to produce video and statistics?

As Canale pointed out, for high school juniors, “this is usually their biggest improvement phase, and now it’s here but they can’t show it.”

“Obviously, it’s disappointing for the kids because they want to compete,” St. Ambrose track and field coach Dan Tomlin said. “I think recruiting is secondary to competing for conference championships, regional championships and state titles, but exposure is part of it. I think for the juniors, it’s probably more disappointing because for spring sports, we do a lot of recruiting based on those performances. Without that body of work, they might struggle.

“But at St. Ambrose, we recruit attitude and character over athletic ability. We’re looking for good students. I would say personality makes the athlete. The things that are out of your control, you can’t do anything about, and if you can control what you can control — and that’s your attitude and effort — you can get yourself recruited to a lot of good schools.”

Getting on coaches’ radars also is a problem for junior college sophomores looking to move on to a four-year school.

“Right now is the time we are getting emails and phone calls about players who might be interested in moving on,” IVCC softball coach Cory Tomasson said. “These players are going to be affected. We can give (college coaches) video and stats from last year, but if they don’t actually see them participate, it makes a difference.

“We have players looking to play somewhere else, but they may get more offers as the season goes by because someone sees them at a game or is following their stats, and there’s nothing to follow. There may be a few of our players it affects, unfortunately, and that’s really a shame, but four-year schools are trying to get people into those spots, and if they haven’t done it yet, they may be open to taking someone who they haven’t seen.”

What can recruits do?

Canale and college coaches have a few things high school athletes should be doing to get noticed even though they can’t currently play.

“Put together a really thought-out, planned email that explains why you’re interested in a school — not a blanket email you’re going to forward to 10 coaches,” Canale said. “Let the coach know why you’re interested in their school academically and athletically, what you bring to the table athletically, how you plan to further your career academically, and let them know what your workout plan has been and what you’ve been doing to prepare for the upcoming season. Also forward what video you do have and hope for the best.”

Tomlin said it’s important for athletes to research colleges that will be the right fit for them.

“I tell all high school kids to find schools that have the academic program you want, then reach out to the coaches and tell them you’re interested in their schools academically and you’d like to continue being an athlete in college,” Tomlin said. “To me, that’s a great way to get the recruiting started. When I get those emails, I turn around and email back and call that kid very quickly because I know they’re serious about being a student, that they know who we are and they want to keep being an athlete in college.

“The shoe might be on the other foot here for a year or two with kids recruiting themselves to coaches, but that doesn’t mean the opportunities won’t be there. We all have rosters to fill, and we’re all looking for quality students and quality athletes.”

Eureka softball coach Debi Neff said even without games being played, there are ways for college coaches to find players and for athletes to get noticed.

“I don’t think (recruits) are going to be as affected as maybe they are worried because good players always surface,” Neff said. “Through word of mouth to social media, there are so many different avenues to be able to connect. We’ll just take a little pause, maybe, for a few weeks here.

“Personally speaking, I like to get emails because it’s more personal. They usually do a pretty good job describing themselves in their own way. That makes it easy for me to go back and reread and get a little bit of an idea about them. It gives me an opportunity to email them back and get a conversation started. I do a lot of texting. You can look on our website and get my phone number, so there are easy contacts if you’re a sophomore or junior who really wants to get ahold of a coach.”

Just as important as reaching out to coaches is being prepared to play once games resume, whether that’s high school or travel games.

“They need to stay active and keep moving so when the opportunity does arise, they’re ready to go,” said North Central College baseball coach Ed Mathey, who was previously the head coach at Northern Illinois University. “Secondly, I think they need to do a little research on the types of schools they’d like to go to and possibly send some video they do have by email to coaches or the recruiting coordinators of those schools so they can do some evaluation over tape. As coaches, we’re accustomed to seeing tape and being able to figure out what the fit is based off that. I think will become very important for the kids.”

What can coaches do?

The current shutdown of sports isn’t just difficult on high school athletes, but it will make finding potential recruits more challenging for the college coaches as well.

Not only are there no games or meets to see potential targets, but Tomasson said the NJCAA has shut down all in-person recruiting, which means he can’t bring in players for workouts or visit their house.

“Talking to coaches directly is a good tool,” Tomasson said. “A few of my players I recruited from out of district are from their pitching coaches I’ve built relationships with.”

Tomlin said some of his usual tools to find athletes won’t be available, but there are other avenues.

“There will be a challenge for us to identify from a talent standpoint who to recruit,” Tomlin said. “But the high school coaches know. They know how talented their kids are, so that’s where having those good relationships with high school coaches makes a difference. Reputation of the school and the program at both the high school level and college level helps.

“It will be a challenge on this side not being able to just go to Milesplit (website) and pull up stats and say, ‘Let’s reach out to every kid who throws the shot put over 40 feet because stats aren’t available. From the college coaches’ standpoint, it’s really putting boots on the ground and talking to high school coaches about the class of 2021. That’s going to be how I handle things.”

Neff, a longtime high school coach before taking over at Eureka, said she’ll tap into her network to find players as well.

“I feel like I have a pretty good arena of people who help me and give me some ideas of good players in the area,” Neff said. “That’s very helpful to me. That’s one way you’re going to be able to at least keep the information line open.

“I think we have to take a step back and wait and see what happens with the season and if they get to play or not. It’s the unknown right now that I think worries a lot of people.”

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