by Catharine Aradi

At its 2012-2014 conventions, the NCAA passed a number of important proposals that may affect you.  Let's start with the Div. I academic guidelines.  Beginning in 2016, you will only be eligible to compete as a freshman at a D-I program if you have a 2.3 GPA in those tough core” classes--math, English, science, history/government, languages. In addition, you will need to complete at least 10 of your 16 core classes by the end of your junior year. This means you have to plan and track your classes from your freshman year.  If you find out when you're a senior that you need to retake two semesters from your sophomore year when you got a D in Spanish and a D in Geometry, it may be too late. Being on top of your grades will be more important than ever.

Another change from 2012 has to do with scholarships. Div. I coaches are allowed to offer a scholarship that can be guaranteed for four years.  Whether or not this will become common practice among Div. I softball teams is unclear.  It is likely most players will have to renew their scholarships at the end of each school year.  If you're lucky enough to be among the 25% of players who will be recruited by a Div. I program, be sure you ask the coach to explain or clarify every detail of how your scholarship is administered.

In some ways, the bigger news about recruiting changes has to do with Div. II colleges.  As of 2014, to be eligible to compete as a freshman at a D-II program, you must have completed 16 academic core classes.  (The previous requirement was 14.)  That means you have to add 2 extra credits in English, Math, Science, etc.  This may have serious implications for student-athletes who are taking the minimum requirements to graduate or who have to repeat classes in which they received a grade of D or lower.  If you graduate in In addition, b
eginning in 2018, you'll need a 2.2 GPA for Div. II initial eligibility, and SAT and ACT scores will be determined on a sliding scale as they now are with Div. I eligibility. The 16 core course minimum is similar to that of Div. I colleges.

Where recruiting is concerned, Div. II coaches are now allowed to contact prospects starting June 15th following their sophomore year. In other words, a whole year has been added onto the recruiting process for Div. II coaches.  In addition, D-II coaches are allowed unlimited contact with you.  There are no restrictions on phone, email, in person or written contacts.

What will this mean to you?  So far, I haven't seen anything resembling a massive shift in Div. II recruiting trends or styles.  Most Div. II coaches tell me they generally focus on tracking and recruiting players as they go through their junior year and move into their senior year.  These coaches often don't know what positions they'll need, what players will be returning (or leaving), and what their budgets will be until the start of each college year.  So, for example, the majority of D-II coaches will make their 2016 recruiting decisions in 2016--e.g, start identifying prospects now, follow them through next spring and into the summer and continue with active recruiting throughout the fall when the players can take their official visits.

Should you start writing all the D-II colleges as a sophomore?  It's fine to contact coaches early, but if you wait to send out letters and videos to these Div. II schools until your junior year, you probably won't miss out on much in the way of opportunities. Unlike so many Div. I coaches who are bound and determined to get early commitments--even if they regret them later--most Div. II coaches won't pressure you to make that big decision until both you and they are sure it's the right one!

For some athletes, the college search will have to start as a sophomore rather than as a junior. But here are a few points to consider.  Div. I contact rules haven't changed, so if you want to get on a Div. I coach's radar early, you're going to have to do most of the work and do it at your own expense.  Your parents will have to pay for any visits to colleges, you'll have to phone the coaches yourself, and so on. You should also keep in mind that many of the early commitments you see or hear about are commitments made by players for very small amounts of money or even to go as recruited walk-ons at Div. I schools.  In other words, these players are committing to attend that college, but their parents are footing much of, if not the entire, bill. The players may well have been told they have a spot on the team, but they'll have to prove themselves once they get there. 

At the other end of the spectrum, most D-III coaches do very little recruiting before the end of the player's junior year, and the odds are good most Div. II (and NAIA) coaches will continue to leave their active recruiting until a prospect is well into her junior year.  So, here is the bottom line. Nearly 80%--yes, 80%--of players who compete in college will be doing so at Div. II, Div. III, NAIA or small Div. I programs. And while it may seem that many schools are done recruiting for the next five years, in truth, the vast majority of coaches will be looking for great athletes through your junior year and--almost certainly--into your senior year as well.

Nonetheless, one thing is for sure. If understanding the college search process was complicated before, it's even more so now.  Being educated and having experienced recruiting resources may be the only way to get through it successfully!

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