The Ivy League has proposed legislation to the NCAA that would limit how early prospective student-athletes can be recruited by coaches, the conference announced Wednesday.
Specifically, the proposal would prohibit recruiting players before they enter their junior year. Coaches would not be allowed to make “verbal offers” of financial aid or admissions process support before junior year, and the regulation would also forbid other forms of unofficial recruiting, such as hosting unofficial visits or having recruiting conversations at sports camps and clinics.
The proposed legislation originated from the eight Ivy directors of athletics, who in May requested that the league office review early recruiting practices in the conference and make a recommendation to the NCAA.
“Yale has always supported this concept,” Yale Director of Athletics Tom Beckett said. “Students need to thoroughly explore their options before making such an important decision. We are convinced this regulation will assist that process.”
NCAA Assistant Director of Public and Media Relations Meghan Durham said that after a rule change is proposed by a conference to the NCAA, all NCAA members must discuss and ultimately vote to approve or reject the idea.
In the league’s press release, Ivy League Executive Director Robin Harris said the new proposals aim to alleviate stress on prospective students, who are often pressured to make the “life-altering” decision of where to attend college as freshmen or sophomores in high school.
Though the NCAA already has specific recruiting guidelines stipulating that coaches should not contact prospective student-athletes prior to the start of their junior years, schools have developed ways of working around those rules and accelerating the recruiting timeline.
Common practices by coaches, for example, include accepting calls from students, hosting unofficial visits or contacting prospective student-athletes through their high school or club coaches.
In fact, in 2014, The New York Times used data from the National Collegiate Scouting Association to find that high percentages of students that had unofficially received and accepted scholarship offers before the official recruiting process was allowed to begin.
The numbers varied by sport. In both men’s and women’s lacrosse, the figure was at least 31 percent, while for volleyball, the number hovered at the 20 percent mark. Men’s basketball and football were among the lowest at 5 and 4 percent, respectively.
“Early recruiting has become a national issue, as the recruiting process has significantly intensified earlier in high school,” Harris said in a statement to the News. “High school freshmen and sophomores are not ready academically, physically or socially, to make their college choice. Our goal is to spark a conversation, and advocate for new NCAA rules to change the culture of recruiting, and to benefit the coaches, schools and most importantly, prospective student-athletes.”
Kristie Braken-Guelke, for example, committed to playing soccer for the University of Washington near the end of her sophomore year of high school. She said that even though there were some benefits to being recruited early on, such as knowing in advance which school she would be attending and being able to better prepare for her future, there were also definite drawbacks to the process.
Primarily, she said it was possible for the recruiting coach to be frustrated because they did not end up “getting the player they were expecting.” Athletes sometimes peak in high school, and have changed their quality of play by the time they get to college. Additionally, Braken-Guelke pointed out that the student might not be sure of what they are “getting themselves into,” as college soccer expectations are a big jump from club soccer.
“Looking back, I wish I would’ve had a better understanding for my priorities because now that I’ve had time to reflect I have come to the conclusion that the academics of a school were more important to me than the level of soccer,” Braken-Guelke said. “I know now that I wanted to be at a school where I would be happy as well as successful even if soccer was taken away from me for whatever reason.”
At Yale specifically, coaches interviewed said they tend to recruit athletes later in their high school careers, because standardized test scores and transcripts are taken highly into account.
Thus, women’s basketball head coach Allison Guth said she did not expect the proposal to affect her team, other than putting the team on an “even playing field” with the rest of NCAA Division I recruiting.
“The most important benefit of such a rule is for the well-being of the student-athlete, and that is what we should all be focusing on,” Guth said. “This rule would allow for a student-athlete to mature and to sincerely know what he or she is truly looking for as they choose a college to further their academic and athletic career.”
Similarly, men’s golf head coach Colin Sheehan ’97 told the News last April that he tells all recruits the recruiting process “really doesn’t begin” until the end of their junior year.
“Only then, once you can assemble your transcript for freshman, sophomore and junior years, along with all the necessary standardized testing information, can I fully review your profile,” reads Sheehan’s standardized email to recruits. “That is the first hurdle. Once cleared, I can start looking at golf achievements.”
Unlike most other Division I schools, members of the Ivy League cannot offer athletic scholarships to prospective student-athletes. Coaches can make only a preliminary offer of support through the admissions process.