Athletics News

Shooting For College: Recruiting Update - New Contact Rules


Nov. 4, 2014

By Angela Kraus

Big Splash in the World of Water Polo Recruiting: Beginning September 1, 2014, college water polo coaches are allowed to initiate phone calls to junior prospective student-athletes. Text messaging is now allowed. Will this change the recruiting landscape? What does this mean for aspiring collegiate water polo players?

Until now collegiate coaches previewed underclassmen at their leisure during the off-season and summer tournaments, such as ODP Regional Championships, NTSC, NSC, US Club Championships, state championships (e.g., California State High School Championships and similar), and of course, USA Water Polo’s Junior Olympics. They noted which student-athletes to watch, which possibly to invite to junior days, and so forth, updating files as appropriate throughout the athletes’ junior year. But as fall approached, they turned their focus to seniors, soliciting and securing commitments, vetting choices with their respective admissions offices, counseling prospects about their schools’ application and admissions processes, scheduling official visits, and shepherding applications through admissions committees, hopefully culminating in “likely letters,” NLIs (for women’s programs), or other early admission decisions. Recruiting efforts with seniors resumed after the winter holidays, leading up to the men’s signing day in early February and regular NLI signing dates for men and women in April. Active “courting” of junior prospects was often put on the back burner until seniors were secured.

Now collegiate coaches face the prospect of spending the fall juggling juniors and seniors simultaneously as they seek out, develop, and maintain lines of communication with junior prospects. The challenge they face is that most juniors are still developing. Although coaches may see hints of athletic promise, many prospects have not yet played at more advanced club or varsity levels. Academically, prospects are “incomplete.” Junior year is notoriously challenging: strong 9th and 10th grade GPAs may wither under the pressure of more rigorous courses typically encountered in 11th and 12th grades. While some students may have taken AP or subject tests at the end of their sophomore years—possibly providing early snapshots of academic promise/prospects—they have not taken standardized tests (SAT, ACT, or SAT subject tests). Once they do, there may be a disparity between students’ GPAs and test scores, leading admissions officers to conclude that high GPAs are not supported by recognized predictors of future success in college, rendering what appeared to be qualified applicants ineligible for further consideration.

So will the liberalized contact rules actually affect recruitment of water polo players, and if so, how?

In many respects, the basics will not change—contact rules for freshmen and sophomores remain the same. All student-athletes still have to impress coaches the same ways they always have. Prospects will use the same methods to express interest in schools, including making as many unofficial campus visits as early and often as they like. But the new rules may make the process more direct as college coaches now can respond to e-mails without limitation and even initiate contacts (including phone calls) with juniors. Texts are permitted, allowing for more immediate communication, which can be helpful if both parties are trying to connect while on the same pool deck. Coaches will be able to provide direct information about what it will take to be a viable candidate for their schools, minimizing the role of high school and club coaches as middlemen. Coaches and athletes will have more time to get to know each other and figure out if they “fit” together, ultimately leading to better match-ups of coaches and players, and schools and players. Water polo players may “commit” to collegiate programs earlier than they historically have, as athletes in soccer, volleyball, and other sports have been doing for some time.

While the need for prospective student-athletes to be academically and athletically prepared hasn’t changed, the timeline for that preparation may accelerate—prospects will need to get and be on track earlier in order to develop strong profiles sooner, especially for colleges with the most rigorous admissions requirements, competitive teams, or both. Also it may be advisable for sophomores to initiate communications with prospective college coaches by the end of the sophomore year.

Although it may seem as though liberalized contact rules may advance the overall recruiting process—especially compressing the early (fall) cycle and making it more competitive at schools with the most rigorous admissions requirements—it appears the new rules won’t bring about significant changes in the early action/decision cycle for senior boys and girls, the November early NLI signing period for senior girls, post-season recruiting for senior boys, or in-season recruiting for senior girls. Similarly it won’t result in significant recruiting changes during or immediately following the conclusion of the junior year; by that time, as in the past, previously unknown information (5th and 6th semester high school grades, standardized test scores, another season of high school and club water polo) may be available for consideration in the recruiting process and influence the direction it takes.

The answers to these questions will become clear as time passes. But for now college coaches are trying to figure out how to deal with the expanded opportunities to contact juniors about 10 months earlier while dealing with the men’s season just getting underway and early recruiting of seniors. Juniors (and underclassmen) will continue to be well-served by focusing their efforts on being athletically and academically prepared instead of worrying about which coach might be calling them or their friends. Ultimately admissions decisions are still made by admissions offices, not water polo coaches.

This article appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of SkipShot magazine

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