Even before the pandemic, much of the recruiting process had moved online. Digital platforms, like Next College Student Athlete, help coaches see game video, résumés and academic transcripts from student-athletes. In April, 15,000 college coaches and 502,000 athlete profiles were viewed, according to the company, setting a single-month record for activity.
Many athletes take the initiative to market themselves and email coaches links to their social media sites, with highlights not only of their athletic exploits but also windows into their personality and interests. Emile, for example, tries to email at least five coaches a day.
Nothing, however, beats a coach seeing a recruit up close on a basketball court, soccer field or in a swimming pool.
In March, after the National Club Swimming Association spring championships in Orlando were canceled, Jimmy Tierney, the swimming and diving coach at McKendree University, realized how dependent he was on the spring and summer circuits.
“I was supposed to meet some of my recruits there for the first time,” said Tierney, who started the program at McKendree, in Lebanon, Ill., after 21 years as the women’s swimming and diving coach at Northwestern University. “Even though you have tape and times, you want to see their technique in the water. Out of it, you want to see how they walk and talk. You want to talk to coaches about reputations. You want to know what you are getting for four years.”
That recruiting is going digital may be necessary, but it is not nearly as efficient. Zach Ward, the men’s soccer coach at Haverford College, said working tournaments and camps and conducting on-site visits yield a quicker and better assessment of the student-athlete than watching tape and conducting video chats. Usually, this time of year, Ward has a database of 150 rising seniors and potential recruits; instead he now he has a third as many.
“I’m behind because there’s only so much you can do with tape — nobody sends you their lowlights,” Ward said. “If nothing changes, I’m going to have to trust my gut a little bit. You take a chance on some guys and do everything you can for the athlete.”