by Catharine Aradi

See Note at Bottom.

Most families know that (in softball) NCAA Division I and II colleges have an early signing period for one week in November. But  families are often unaware that there is a "traditional" signing period which runs from mid-April all the way through July. (Division III colleges never have a signing period since they don't offer athletic-based aid, and NAIA schools sign their own individual commitment letters and do not use the National Letter of Intent.)

Seniors and their parents can get caught up in an early signing frenzy, believing that if they don't actually sign in November, there won't be any colleges left to recruit them. Most would be surprised to learn that if you took all players who will eventually sign at or commit to play at a college somewhere--including D-III and NAIA schools--you would find that the majority of athletes do not sign in the fall. Even if you just looked at players who will sign at a D-I or D-II at some point, I suspect that you'd still find nearly half did not sign in November.

It is probably true that most high visibility players--e.g., the top D-I prospects, kids on well-known travel teams, etc.--will sign in November. But they represent only a portion of the overall total. Of course, since many of these top prospects will choose bigger name colleges, those particular teams may well be out of the recruiting loop after November. But every year I find lots of college coaches still looking for or needing prospects through spring. I think early signing is great for the player who finds a terrific school and team fit and whose family can work with the financial aid offered by that particular school. However, those players who don't sign early should not look for the nearest tall bridge to jump off of. As the old baseball saying goes, "It ain't over 'til the fat lady sings," and she's not even warming up yet!

But what if you don't find the right school in the fall or you got a late start on your college search? First of all, be sure you have several "Plan B" schools to which you apply following their regular application deadlines. Whether it is a local school, a school where you wouldn't play softball, or one where you'd try out as a walk-on player, you need to have a college to attend. (Some players will decide college softball may not be right for them after all, so they'll need a back-up school for sure!) Once you've gotten those applications out of the way, take a new look at your goals vis-à-vis college ball, and try to decide how realistic those goals are. If you were shooting for Alabama or Fresno State, chances are they're done recruiting, and while you can call the coach to find out for sure, you may want to take most of the big name college teams off your list if they're not calling you.

I have seen players stick to their college search with dogged determination, through the winter, into the spring and even into the summer. And it's almost always paid off if only because most other kids gave up! Granted, in this case, successfully finding a college may mean adjusting your expectations to fit your reality--and for some kids and parents, that's impossible. But for those who truly want to play in college, if you are open to lots of options, keep plugging away, and don't give up, you have a terrific chance of finding a college that says, "We want you!"

***Note*** In May 2017, the NCAA released a new Division I “Recruiting Calendar”. The purpose of this revision is to reduce the number of interactions between Div. I coaches and players. It will decrease camp contacts/evaluations, and it will almost certainly decrease Div. I coach attendance at many travel tournaments. 

In addition, it is likely that NCAA Div. I softball coaches will soon vote on a comprehensive restructuring of initial contact guidelines. If passed, these changes could go into effect as early as August 2018. The proposed guidelines will greatly impact and reduce most instances of Div. I early recruiting.  Check the  NCAA website or this website for updates.

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