by Catharine Aradi

The NCAA has a distinct set of recruiting guidelines that both college coaches and recruits are supposed to follow.  Coaches are tested on the rules, but so far, there’s no test for parents, players and youth coaches, unfortunately! Because of this, I find that quite a few softball families have only a vague idea of what they can and can’t do during the college search.

To complicate matters, recruiting rules can change from year to year…and sometimes within a year. Also, these guidelines differ from NCAA division to division. So, the rules that the coach at a Div. III college has to follow will not be the same as those that apply to coaches at Div. I colleges…or Div. II for that matter.

There are some potentially major recruiting guideline changes pending at the Division I level. These may be voted on in the spring of 2018, and if approved, the new guidelines could go into effect as early as August of this year. The impact of these changes will depend upon which proposals pass.  But here is a brief summary of what is being proposed and how it might affect your college search.  (Keep in mind, however, that these guideline changes will impact Div. I colleges only. They will not affect the other 75% of college softball teams---e.g., Div. II, Div. III and NAIA programs.)

1. The NCAA could revise the date when prospects can start taking official visits to Div. I colleges.

As of now, recruits cannot take official (paid for) visits to a Div. I college until they start their senior year in high school. This proposal would change that rule and allow prospects to begin taking official visits as early as the junior year. (If this proposal passes, voters will have to decide whether the start date for official visits would be Sept. 1 or Jan. 1 of the junior year.)

2. The NCAA may establish a date when unofficial visits to Div. I colleges can include a face-to-face meeting with the softball coaches on campus.

As of now, players can visit a campus unofficially (or at their own expense) at any time and can meet with the softball coaching staff with no restrictions. Under the new guidelines, prospects could still visit campuses whenever they wanted, but they would not be able to meet with the softball coaching staff until a specific date.  (If this proposal passes, the date when prospects could meet with coaches during an unofficial visit would either be at the start of the junior year or possibly at the start of the sophomore year.)

3. The NCAA may change the current guideline pertaining to player-initiated phone calls to Div. I college coaches and attach a start date before which these would not be permitted.

Right now, a player can phone a Div. I coach at any time, and if you reach the coach, he or she can talk to you regardless of your grad year. However, if this proposal passes, Div. I college coaches would not be able to take phone calls from prospects until the start of the junior year.  The start of the junior year is currently the time when D-I coaches can start phoning prospects (initiating contact) for recruiting purposes. This proposal would effectively prohibit all phone contact between players and D-I coaches until the player had started her junior year.

What brought these changes about?
  Simply put, the tidal wave of frustration over early commitments to Div. I colleges by players barely out of diapers finally reached the shore.  Other sports such as lacrosse have already enacted legislation designed to put an end to early recruiting/commitments. (Essentially, lacrosse coaches may not have any contact with prospects --outside of camps or clinics--until the start of the junior year.)

There may be some resistance to the passing of similar legislation in softball, but the consensus is that these proposals will become law.  If not this year...then soon.  Let us hope that sanity rules the day, and that softball will emulate the wise decision made by Div. I lacrosse coaches!

And what will this mean for you? For one thing, it will level the playing field (pun intended) somewhat.  Although no more than 10-15% of all the players in a given graduation year will commit "early"---e.g., before the middle of the junior year---those girls who do commit tend to fall into two distinct groups. 

A small percentage of them are the most elite athletes---the next Lisa Fernandez or Jenny Finch or Monica Abbot. These girls will always stand out. They will shine at each level of competition they move to, and they will continue to be high achievers once they're in college.  They are the All Americans of tomorrow.

But the second and much larger group of early commit players are simply girls who grew bigger and stronger a little sooner than their classmates. Because they mature earlier, they are more likely to have access to better travel teams and coaching and better competition, and they are more likely to be noticed at a younger age.  But this does not (by any means) guarantee they will still be bigger and stronger than their peers when they enter college. In fact, many of their classmates will have caught up with them, and some will have passed them by.

Under the new rules, Div. I college coaches will still be able to scout and evaluate younger players. But they will have almost no opportunity to pursue early commitments from them. Essentially, Div. I coaches will be asked to leave players alone until they are juniors. So, some athletes who perhaps don't mature as early and who might not stand out as 8th, 9th or 10th graders may now be able to catch up with their peers.  This will make recruiting more competitive, and all girls may have to work harder than they would have as younger prospects!

Hopefully, these guideline changes will encourage athletes (and Div. I college coaches) to make smarter choices. Players will not have the pressure to commit early thus allowing them time to identify all of their collegiate needs and interests. They’ll have more time to find out if playing college ball is indeed right for them, and if it is, to explore different types of schools.  If Div. I coaches respect the new rules and don't try to "back door" commitments, this change will be a fantastic one for all concerned.

Be sure to watch my web page and the NCAA web page for updates on these changes as 2018 unfolds. And if they pass, that loud "hooray" you hear echoing around every softball field in the country will have started at my front door!

(NOTE: NAIA recruiting guidelines are more general, and most of them apply to things such as official visits.  For more information visit:

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