Courtesy of Yale Athletics

As the COVID-19 pandemic took the country by force in March 2020, the NCAA forbade in-person recruiting in an effort to minimize the spread of the virus. After continuing for more than a year, this dead period for recruitment is set to end soon.

In mid-April, the NCAA announced that the dead period will conclude on June 1, allowing college coaches to return to their sport’s regular recruiting calendar, which dictates when and how they can evaluate and make contact with prospective student-athletes. The recruitment process, similar to Yale classes, get-togethers and meetings, went virtual during the pandemic.

Yale men’s heavyweight crew assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Mike Gennaro said he is excited to return to the normal recruiting cycle.

“The recruiting process can be stressful at times, but I genuinely enjoy meeting and chatting with potential student-athletes and their families from around the world,” Gennaro said. “I am looking [forward] to being able to do that again soon.”

Currently, Yale’s visitors policy states that visitors to campus “are not allowed at university sponsored events on or off campus.” Mike Gambardella, Yale’s associate athletic director for strategic communications, confirmed that recruiting visits fall under the category of University-sponsored events referred to in Yale’s current visitors policy.

It remains unclear if Yale coaches will be able to host recruits on campus after June 1 arrives and the dead period ends. Visitors will not be permitted at Commencement in late May, for example, even if they are fully vaccinated. But the University’s travel guidelines, last updated on April 8, now allow University-sponsored travel for fully vaccinated faculty, staff and students “subject to obtaining approvals required under existing university policies and processes.”

“We have regular conversations with our coaches about NCAA recruiting changes and how they are impacted by campus regulations,” Gambardella added in an email to the News.

Even if University guidelines eventually permit visitors and unrestricted travel, the end of dead period may not completely end remote recruiting. Phone calls, text messages and other means of virtual contact play an important role in the process. Gennaro, for example, said the heavyweight crew program normally begins reaching out to rowers when they are high school juniors through emails, phone calls and Skype.

“Towards the end of the summer after their junior year, we will do some traveling to meet recruits in person,” he added. “In the fall of their senior year, we bring a group of recruits to campus for their official visits before we begin the decision-making process.”

Gennaro said that evaluating prospects virtually was a challenge, but that he was pleased with the outcome of the program’s virtual recruitment this year.

Remote recruiting efforts for the women’s crew team are also running smoothly, explained Laura Simon, Yale women’s crew assistant coach and recruiting coordinator.

“Recruiting has continued to go well for the women’s team,” Simon said. “We have enjoyed the opportunity to bring Yale into families’ living rooms around the world, virtually of course.”

Maia Dreyer, the founder of Three-4-Three consulting, a business that offers athletic recruiting guidance to high school athletes and their parents, said she envisions a “new normal” for college recruiting as the pandemic ends and certain health protocols remain in place.

To Dreyer, who is also the mother of Yale volleyball player Ashley Dreyer ’22, the end of the dead period means that recruits can finally get a taste of the student-athlete experience.

“I am very excited for the DI dead period to be lifted on June 1,” Dreyer told the News. “Student-athletes will finally meet a coach in person on campus, hang out with members of the team and watch a game or practice.”

Although the Ivy League did not host any games this year, Dreyer does not believe the lack of competition will hinder the schools’ future recruiting efforts, an opinion largely shared by other recruiting consultants interviewed by the News in March.

Gennaro agreed and said he does not think the heavyweight crew program is at a disadvantage when it comes to recruiting this year. He explained that in normal years, the team’s spring season was a good topic of conversation with prospective high school rowers.

“I could talk to them about the races we were preparing for, our results, selection for crews,” Gennaro said. “Without a spring racing season to discuss, I’ve had to be more creative in my recruiting conversations, but I have also had more time to work through the recruiting.”

Mariya Rauf, a high school junior from Virginia, committed to play for Yale women’s hockey in January. She explained that her college recruitment process started in June 2020, when she said Division I coaches were first allowed to reach out to sophomore hockey players.

Instead of leading Rauf and other prospective student-athletes on tours around campus and through athletic facilities, the Yale coaches sent virtual tour links. While the NCAA-mandated dead period barred coaches from leading tours around campus and through athletic facilities, that did not stop Rauf from traveling to New Haven.

“I had the opportunity to visit a couple of times and walk around with my dad. … We both loved it and thought that it was a beautiful school with such a rich history. It would be a great fit for me,” Rauf said. “I don’t feel like I missed out [on the recruitment cycle due to the dead period] because I knew I was interested in Yale.”

Rauf currently plays for the Washington Pride, where she leads the club team in total points.

MELANIE HELLER