In college and professional athletics, recruiting is the term used when coaches and scouts review and add new players to their roster of student-athletes each off-season. In most instances, it involves a coach extending a scholarship offer to a player who is about to graduate from high school or a junior college. In some cases, coaches and scouts attend showcase tournaments in baseball, for example, where coaches get a close look at players. Many bring radar guns to check the speed of pitches as they closely look at all details of a player.
Since success or failure in recruiting is seen as a valuable investment of time, energy and money for a college or professional team’s future prospects, considerable effort is involved in a network of college coaches, high school coaches, recruiting companies, the news media, student-athletes and parents. The dream of athletes and parents is a lucrative scholarship while the hope of many coaches is the selection of a talented student-athlete with great potential.
Many college sports fans follow college recruiting as closely as the team’s actual games. Following recruiting news and details also provides a way for fans to be connected to the team during the long off season. Fans’ desire for information has spawned a million-dollar industry which first developed extensively during the 1980s. Prior to the Internet, popular recruiting services used newsletters and pay telephone numbers to disseminate information. Since the mid-1990s, many online recruiting websites have offered fans player profiles, scouting videos, player photos, statistics, interviews, and other information, including rankings of both a player and a team’s recruiting class. Most of these websites charge for their information.
NCAA D-I, D-II, D-III — Division One, Division Two, Division Three
In the United States, college football recruiting is the most-followed sports recruiting due to the popularity of Division-I university football programs. Division I-A football also has the highest number of scholarship players (85) of any other college sport. The NCAA allows football teams to add up to 25 new scholarship players to the roster per academic year, so long as the total number of scholarship players does not exceed 85. Scholarship limits are lower for Division I-AA (63) and Division II (36) teams.
The football recruiting season typically begins the summer after the previous year’s class has signed—though the building of relationships between college coaches and high school players and their coaches may have been going on for months or years before that. Each summer high school players attend various football camps at nearby college campuses to be measured and tested in various drills (especially the 40-yard-dash). This is typically when players begin to receive most scholarship offers.
After receiving an offer, a player may choose to commit. This is a non-binding, oral agreement. Although more coaches have tried in recent years to get players to commit early, typically the most highly rated players commit within a month of National Signing Day, the day all high school players who will graduate that year can sign letters of intent to play for their college of choice. Signing Day always falls on the first Wednesday in February. Other players, who may not have as many offers to chose from, more often verbally commit earlier in the process. Players occasionally decide to sign with a different school from which they gave a verbal commitment, which often causes rancor between the fans and coaching staffs of the two schools. Junior college players, however, can sign scholarships in late December, once their sophomore seasons have ended.
A letter of intent is binding for both the player and school for one academic year as long as the player is eligible to enroll at the college.
Recruiting for Division I basketball teams is also popular with sports fans. Schools are limited to having 13 scholarship players. The formal NCAA rules and processes for recruiting and signing recruits are similar, but the identification and recruiting of talent differs from football in important ways. Whereas football players can only play in a very limited number of competitive games per year, summer camps and traveling AAU teams afford prospects the opportunity to play outside of the regular basketball season. As a result, while football players generally only come to the attention of college recruiters after excelling at the high school varsity level, top level basketball players may emerge as early as the 8th or 9th grade. Players may also consider their AAU team as their primary squad, which can make high school basketball coaches less influential in the recruiting process than high school football coaches.
Common Recruiting Terms
Blue chip. The term for someone that is among the top players (overall or at their position) coming out of high school.
Early enrollment. The player will graduate from high school early and enroll at the college for the spring semester. This is encouraged to get the player ready for playing time that upcoming season.
Eligibility. Eligibility requirements include full-time student status, grade point average minimum standards, completed credit hours, declaration of a major and a limit of the number of years participation in a varsity sport. It is important that athletes understand the complete list of NCAA regulations regarding eligibility rules, which should be obtained from the NCAA (NCAA.org).
NCAA eligibility requirements are administered by the NCAA Eligibility Center starting in 2007. NCAA’s initial eligibility certification process was administered by American College Testing (ACT), Inc., an independent, nonprofit organization in Iowa City, Iowa. The NCAA contract with ACT expires October 31, 2007)
Grayshirt. The player will either be unable or chooses not to enroll in time for the fall semester and will instead enroll in the following semester or year. This may also refer to high school seniors who graduate after their fall semester and enroll in college for the spring semester. If voluntary, the reason is usually because the college has signed more players for that season than permissible under NCAA rules. The recruit can then count against the previous year’s allocation. Compare: redshirt.
Mr. Irrelevant. The player selected last on a professional football team traditionally earns the title “Mr. Irrelevant.” The player picked last of all players recruited is also “Mr. Irrelevant.”
Mr. Irreplaceable. A loosely-used term for a fantastic player.
National Letter of Intent (NLI). An athlete’s agreement to attend for one academic year the institution listed on the Letter in exchange for that institution awarding athletics financial aid for one academic year. Once an athlete signs a letter of intent, that athlete cannot be recruited by other schools (See National Letter of Intent — national-letter.org).
Project/Sleeper/Under the Radar. Terms that refer to a recruit who is not as highly ranked as a school’s typical recruits. Often, these are players who may be athletically gifted but who may have begun playing the sport recently, but the coaches believe they may develop into at least solid players with more experience. Schools often recruit such players if
they have scholarships left over at the end of a recruiting period.
Recruited Walk-On. A player that is enrolling at the college but does not have a scholarship offer. Coaches may invite them to join the team to help on the practice squad or special teams (in football). If a player works their way up into the regular playing rotation, they may be awarded a scholarship. In football, place kickers, punters, and long snappers frequently join teams as recruited walk-ons. Coaches may also award a scholarship during the last year of eligibility to a walk-on who has been with the team for several seasons and if the team has scholarships available. While most walk-ons, particularly in football, are recruited, others may approach the coaches without invitation about joining the team. In rare cases where a team may have a shortage of scholarship players due to some having left school unexpectedly, coaches may hold open try-outs to find players among the student body.
Redshirt. Describes players, usually freshmen, withheld from varsity competition in order to delay the beginning of their 4-year eligibility period. In a “redshirt” year, a student-athlete may attend classes at the college/university and practice with an athletic team, however he or she may not appear in games.
In football, a student-athlete may redshirt to add size prior to participating since football tends to favor larger players. Since the college years coincide with the typical completion of physical maturity, using a year of eligibility in the fifth college year is generally more beneficial to the team and to the student-athlete’s potential professional prospects than it is to use the same year of eligibility in the first college year. Players, especially in football, may redshirt to learn the team’s play book since college teams run more complex and more plays generally than most high school teams. Commonly, an athlete will redshirt the first year of college, if the athlete is redshirting at all.
A medical redshirt that may be obtained to replace a season lost to injury. A medical redshirt can be granted by the governing body for a season lost completely or almost completely to injury. A medical redshirt can allow a player to gain additional eligibility beyond the standard four academic calendar years.
If a player shows great talent, or there are injuries on the team, the coach may remove the redshirt status and allow the player to participate in competition for the remainder of the year. However, any participation in any competition counts as a season of eligibility.
Redshirt Freshman. An academic sophomore (second-year student) who is in the first season of athletic eligibility.
Redshirt Sophomore. An academic junior (third-year student) who is in the second season of athletic eligibility. subsequent years are known as fourth year junior year and fifth year senior year.
Signing Dates. The date range from an initial signing date to a final signing date for a specific sport for the following academic year.
Silent commitment. A player has committed to play for the University, but has not publicly disclosed this yet.
Star Ratings. Most recruiting services classify recruits by a number of “stars” with a higher number for more highly ranked prospects. Most services use 5 stars for the highest ranked recruits and only a few players at each position attain this rank. 4 stars is a typical ranking for recruits at elite level universities. 3 stars is a typical ranking for recruits at most schools in conferences with automatic bids to the BCS. 2 stars is a typical ranking for recruits at most mid-major level or Division I-AA schools. 1 star players typically play at levels below NCAA Division I or may be walk-ons at Division I schools.
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