The word uncertainty has been a perfect term to describe COVID-19 and the sports world.
One of the biggest uncertainties is the future college recruiting and eligibility as it essentially came to a standstill for the NAIA, NJCAA and NCAA.
As a result of the pandemic, every level of college baseball and softball, as well as all springs sports, saw their 2020 spring seasons canceled. In response, the NAIA, NJCAA, and NCAA have granted an extra year of eligibility to all spring sport athletes.
While it has been praised as the right decision, it will cause strains for programs and the future of high school and junior college recruiting with athletes having an extra year of eligibility. The question for all levels remains the same, which is if roster size and scholarships will be expanded.
“I don’t know how we are supposed to manage that,” Southern Miss baseball coach Scott Berry said. “I’m not saying that I’m not for it, and I’m not saying that I’m against it. But I’m just like every other head coach out there trying to figure out the guidelines moving forward of how we are going to manage all of this with roster limitations, scholarship limitations and all the things that are going to encompass this scenario.
“I think that the NCAA and all the other levels in good faith made the right decision. Now we just have to wait and see how we are supposed to handle it.”
As of now, most colleges have filled their 2020 signing classes as most baseball and softball players sign their National Letters of Intent at the end of their junior years. Like college, high school was only able to play in the same small quantity of games but unlike colleges, high school juniors and seniors will not gain an extra year of play.
While this could cause further issues with high school recruiting, according to William Carey baseball coach Bobby Halford, the extra year of eligibility could help junior college athletes with the being caught up with their academics and having the opportunity receive a more advanced education
“It really caters to those guys to a certain extent,” Halford said. “Coming out of junior college, they can only have 64 hours, and a lot of the courses they are taking are sometimes filler courses for eligibility purposes. You whittle those down and then they might need more classes for a major or a minor. I just see it as we adjust and do what we have to do.”
As recruiting varies for each level of college athletics, high school athletes will all have to find different ways of gaining attention from college coaches.
The NCAA suspended all in-person activity on March 13 and expanded its restrictions to prohibit off-campus contact which as of now is set to last until April 15. The NJCAA followed a similar move and halted all recruiting until April 15.
But in the NAIA, players and coaches can be in regular contact but currently cannot hold tryouts.
According to William Carey softball coach Craig Fletcher, receiving emails is a common and welcome practice to try and get recruited.
“The kids can contact us in NAIA,” Fletcher said. “We are not like the NCAA. We don’t have the rules and regulations. I get emails all the time with videos, (and I get) phone calls and texts. We do most of our recruiting in the summertime and in our camps. That’s two big ways (to get recruited).”
While high school seasons were canceled or postponed, most high school recruits will still have a chance to garner attention in summer tournaments and camps.
“Our camps are ready for the summer in June, but I certainly don’t know where this is headed and if we can have camps,” Fletcher said. “That may be shut down, but that’s been a big recruiting tool for us. We usually got out in the Summertime and travel down to the coast and Jackson, Louisiana and Oxford and watch tournaments. That’s how we recruit and with word of mouth.
However, in the event that quarantines, summer tournaments and summer teams are canceled coaches and players will have to rely on video recruitment and phone calls. For Pearl River Community College softball coach Christie Meeks, the current plan is to place a higher emphasis on summer tournaments and emails.
“We are going to rely on the summer and travel ball and rely on a good bit on our contacts and people who know us,” Meeks said. “We were getting out as much as we possibly could to see high school games anyway. We have seen a lot of teams, especially in our area, making videos and sending us videos of them working. I always try to make sure I see a kid who emails us or at least talk to somebody about that kid.”
But if summer leagues and tournaments are canceled, then Meeks’ approach will change and will likely rely on video and word of mouth.
“If it comes down to (summer tournaments being canceled) then we are going to have to look into some better options, whether it be trying to send out emails and talk with coaches that we know about kids,” Meeks said. “It’s going to be tricky for these next couple of months, and it will come down to what your necessities are, what you are looking for, who you know and how to get into contact with those people. We are just trying to stay in contact with the kids we are already on and with that, I mean, just contact over text since that’s all we can do.”
According to PRCC baseball coach Michael Avelon, the best way to do video recruiting is to show various angles in the videos sent to junior college and NAIA coaches.
“If it’s a pitcher, one of the best things to include, and it may be tough, is showing different angles of the pitch being thrown,” Avelon said. “Get some video from the front and also the back and side. That helps. Use a radar gun in the video as the pitch is thrown and show the flash of the radar gun. That’s about all a pitcher can do.
“For a hitter, it’s just really trying to show multiple angles of the swing, if they can give us video from the back and the side to give us different looks. It is tough to sign kids and offer kids from videos, but in our current situation, it might be all that we have.”
For Berry, the best advice for high school players is to stay in shape and be prepared for when the opportunity finally comes to try out and play in the future.
“I think you need to remain in shape because, at that point, whenever everything is lifted and we can start getting together in bigger groups, then you’ll have to audition for schools,” Berry said. “Until things are back in place all you can control is having yourself ready to go when they say everything can start happening again.”