ARE EARLY COMMITMENTS REALLY A THING OF THE PAST? by Catharine Aradi www.fastpitchrecruiting.com
(This article was added to the Appendix of my book as of 5/2018. If you have an older edition, this might be helpful.)
When I first became a recruiting consultant, a player was thought to have given an early commitment if she chose a school before September of her senior year! Back then, of course, most college coaches didn't start actively recruiting prospects until they had finished their junior year. It wasn’t that they never looked at younger players, but no coach in her right mind would have expected a 7th or 8th grader to make a verbal commitment. In fact, if you had asked a college coach (even one at a top program) why he or she didn't recruit middle school players, most of the time the response would have been something like, "Are you NUTS?"
Yet, by 2018, the pursuit of very young players by Div. I coaches had become an integral part of the sport. It was a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" scenario. Div. I coaches would tell you they hated it...but most of them kept on doing it.
This trend was fueled by parents who--apparently lacking an understanding of what it takes to play competitive collegiate softball as well as common sense--just didn't “get” why their daughters should wait to decide to play in college until they were old enough to know what this actually means.
There was a very real down side to the early commitment process, one that few people would talk openly about. Parents never heard about the players who got dumped by their college of choice because they’d gained 75 pounds or didn't make grades or forgot how to throw strikes. Parents who bragged about their daughter committing to an SEC or Pac 12 college frequently neglected to mention that no softball money was guaranteed...and no playing time either.
College coaches who accepted verbal commitments from 7th graders usually continued to look at other prospects. Why? Because they had nothing to lose. In a worst-case scenario, that oh-so-promising 7th or 8th grader might not develop as expected (and hoped for), and the coach would then either have to withdraw his offer or allow the girl to sit on the bench until she quit on her own.
Many parents didn’t understand that they could suddenly find themselves footing the bill for a college education they thought was going to be paid for by someone else. Even worse, some discovered that their daughter--while indeed on a Div. I college roster--was completely miserable, and that coach who had been so nice when he recruited her turned out to be a tyrant or a slave driver...or maybe he just doesn't see how good she really is.
Fortunately, the NCAA came to its senses. Following a precedent set by Div. I lacrosse coaches in 2017, strict new Div. I softball contact guidelines went into effect in April of 2018. I've included some of these changes at the end of this article, and additional information is available on the NCAA's website.
What effect will this have on Div. I recruiting? Hopefully, a very positive one. It’s going to take a little time (because there are 7th and 8th graders who have already given verbal commitments to Div. I colleges) but within a couple of years, this change should level the recruiting “playing field”. Athletes who don’t mature ahead of their peers--and therefore are not seen as superstars at twelve, thirteen, or fourteen--may now develop into very strong prospects by the time they’re fifteen, sixteen, or seventeen. This will benefit players and college coaches alike.
Will some Div. I coaches look for ways to get around these restrictions? Probably. But it’s not going to be easy because part of this legislative overhaul was a guideline that prohibits “3rd parties”--e.g., travel coaches, high school coaches, etc.--from acting as recruiting intermediaries for younger players. They will no longer be allowed to pass recruiting messages between Div. I coaches and prospects, and websites boasting that all of their 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th graders have committed will eventually become a thing of the past! (Youth coaches who need clarification of what they are specifically allowed and not allowed to do as 3rd party intermediaries should consult the NCAA or NFCA website.)
Most Div. I coaches are breathing a huge sigh of relief. In the future, they’ll be able to focus on identifying top high school players so that--by the time verbal commitments are made--both coaches and players will be better prepared to make informed and intelligent recruiting choices!
Here is a brief summary of the new Div. I recruiting regulations. For more information, visit the NCAA’s website.
As of 2018, Div. I coaches may not have any recruiting contact with prospective recruits (by letter/email, phone/text or in person on or off campus) before September 1 of your junior year in high school. You may write/email or phone these coaches, but they won’t be able to talk to you or to reply in any way except to acknowledge receipt of your communication or to send you camp information. They cannot contact you directly for recruiting purposes until you are a junior.
IAs of September of your junior year, there are no restrictions on written communications, phone calls, texts or on campus contacts. NOTE: Coaches may talk to a student-athlete during campson or off campushowever, they may not discuss recruitment specifics with her. [This is a change from previous guidelines.] Once the initial recruiting contact date (Sept. 1/junior year) is reached, Div. I coaches are permitted only three (3) in person, off campus contacts with a prospect or her family per year. Again, there are no restrictions on in person, on campus meetings after that date. [This guideline remains the same.]
IDiv. I coaches may not have any in person contact (on or off campus) during a dead period. Div. I coaches are limited to a specific number of scouting days (excluding high school softball) during the year, and they may not scout during established "quiet" periods. [This guideline remains the same.]
NOTE: A Recruiting Calendar identifies the dates when Div. I coaches may evaluate/scout prospects and when they can interact with them at camps. To find current Div. I scouting/evaluation and contact dates for each year, go to ncaa.org and do a search Recruiting Calendar search.
IYou may visit a campus unofficially-at your own expense-as often as you like, and you should try to visit all the schools you’re serious about attending at least once. On these unofficial visits, you may meet with Div. II or Div. III coaches without restriction, however, you may not meet with the coaching staff at a Div. I college until September 1 of your junior year. [This is a change from previous guidelines.]
You are allowed to take no more than five official (or paid for) visits to NCAA Div. I colleges. This applies even if you’re being recruited in more than one sport. You are allowed an unlimited number of official visits to Div. II and Div. III schools, but you may only take one official visit to a particular college regardless of its athletic affiliation. [This guideline remains the same.]
IThe rules for start dates on official visits to NCAA colleges vary from division to division.
1) You may take official visits to Div. I colleges beginning September 1 of your junior year. 2) You may take official visits to Div. II colleges beginning June 15 following your sophomore year. 3) You may take official visits to Div. III colleges beginning January 1 of your junior year.