Diamond Notes: Recruiting 201

Diamond Notes: College Recruiting 201

By: Parents Who Have Been There-December 24, 2007


The following are some tips and observations based on our experiences with the college recruiting process. There are obviously many other things that parents and players must be concerned with, such as the NCAA Clearinghouse. Our intent is not to cover everything you need to know, but rather to share a few of the things we have learned along the way. Some of the things discussed below deal with the new NCAA rules applicable to Division I recruiting. However, much of it is applicable to college recruiting in general, regardless of division.


1. Marketing Your Son 

The term “marketing” brings up images of the over-involved parent trying to live through his/her son. But if your child wants to play college ball that is exactly what you must do. College coaches seldom go to high school games anymore unless they have heard about a specific player. 

The question is how to get your son noticed by college recruiters? One way is showcases. Diamond Prospects offers a number of showcases that provide exposure to college scouts. The DP Summer Showcase may have 30-40 scouts in attendance. The South Carolina Baseball Coaches Association also has a Junior Showcase each summer. The price is very reasonable and there are usually 15-20 scouts in attendance. It is a great value for the money. The only problem with the SCBCA showcase is it is only open to rising seniors, which brings us to rule 1A below. 

Top-level travel teams also offer good exposure. Second tier teams are often a waste of money. What separates the two is the tournaments in which they play and the number of scouts in attendance. There are many considerations in selecting a travel team, such as fun, competition, teammates, coaching philosophy, etc. But, if your primary goal is exposure to college scouts, and your son’s team is not getting him in front of lots of them on a regular basis, it may be time to find another team. 

American Legion baseball has a great tradition in South Carolina. It can be a great experience for kids. But in most cases it does not afford the same exposure to college scouts as a top tier travel team. If your son chooses to play Legion ball, showcases become even more important.

College camps can also help with exposure. Your son should probably start attending two or three camps a year starting in the ninth grade. Camps at larger schools generally have instructors from that school and several other smaller schools, thereby exposing your son to several schools at the same time. Smaller camps generally have coaches from the sponsoring school only. How much exposure camps provide depends on the number of kids and coaches in attendance. Sending your son to multiple camps may also help interest him in a wide variety of schools.


1A. Start Early.

If your son wants to play college baseball you must start marketing him early. The spring of his senior year is too late. The NCAA has two periods during which National Letters of Intent may be signed, an “early” signing period in November, and the traditional signing period in the spring. Most larger Division I schools have finalized 95 percent of their recruiting classes well before the early signing period in November, before the player ever plays his senior season. In many cases they have finalized their classes in the spring/summer of the player’s junior year. There are always exceptions, such as the senior that comes out of nowhere throwing 90 mph, but in most cases your son needs to catch somebody’s eye in his freshman, sophomore or junior year if he hopes to play at a large DI school.



You should not rely on your son’s coaches (high school, travel, Legion, or otherwise) to market your son. That is not their job. Some will be helpful. Some will not. You must educate yourself and take the lead in the process. 


2. College Baseball is a Business. 

We cannot stress this enough. College coaches make business decisions. You should not let their personalities make you forget this. Nor should you take their decisions personally. Every decision they make is dictated by the dollars they have to invest, and the return they hope to get on their investments. They want the best players they can get for the least money. One effect that the new roster limit has had on the business is to make the two-way player, the kid that can pitch and play a position, a more valuable commodity. 


3. Grades & SAT’s.

Believe it or not, one of the first things that college coaches will ask about is your son’s grades and SAT scores. We have yet to be asked about batting averages and ERA’s. Good grades and high SAT scores may help your son get his shot at the college of his choice. Coaches love kids with good grades and high SAT scores for a variety of reasons. One of the main reasons is money. (Remember, college baseball is a business). If they know your son is likely to get a lot of academic money, they may be able to get him for little or no athletic money. With only 11.7 (or fewer) scholarships to divide among 35 players, Division I coaches are always looking to stretch their limited funds as far as possible.

Unfortunately, good grades and high SAT scores may actually decrease (or eliminate) the amount of athletic money your son is offered. If a recruiting coordinator has two similar kids, one of whom is likely to get substantial academic money, which one will be asked to be a "Non-Scholarship Recruit/Invited Walk-on?” (See No. 6 below).


4. Verbal Commitments.

Coaches make verbal offers before (in some cases WELL before) a National Letter of Intent is signed. The school usually, but not always, publicizes the commitment. Publication of the commitment is done as a “hands off” signal to other interested schools. There is no reason a coach cannot recruit a player who has made a verbal commitment to another school. However, there is an unwritten “gentlemen’s agreement” that says they should not do so. Most schools honor the gentlemen’s agreement. In short, the verbal commitment pretty much ends the recruiting process for the kid who “verbals.”

The most important thing you must remember about verbal commitments is that they are non-binding on either party.  Colleges can, and sometimes do, change their minds about players.  Nothing is official (or binding) until a National Letter of Intent is signed.


5. Early Commitments.

It is not uncommon for colleges to make offers to players before they play their junior seasons. Some have even made offers to sophomores. Players and parents should be wary of making early commitments to colleges. The main reason kids make early commitments is that the offer is from their dream school, and/or they want to be done with the recruiting process. The danger of the early commitment becomes apparent when a college backs off a commitment. When a player verbally commits he effectively comes off the market. Colleges that might otherwise have scouted him now ignore him due to the gentlemen’s agreement. Colleges that would normally have offered him will no longer do so. More importantly, they move on to other potential recruits. If the offering college later rescinds the offer the player may find himself scrambling to find other options, if they still exist. Because of their non-binding nature, early commitments are more beneficial to colleges than they are to players.


6. Walk-ons.

Under the new NCAA rules, D-1 schools will be limited to maximum rosters of 35. Rosters are set as of the first spring game. Red-shirted players count as part of the 35. The 35-man roster limit will be a major change for schools that have typically carried 40-45 kids in years past. Of the 35, only 27 (or fewer) may receive athletic scholarships. The question is how will coaches complete their rosters with non-scholarship athletes? One way is non-scholarship recruits/invited walk-ons and open tryout/competitive walk-ons. (Some schools may also do this by taking fourth and fifth year seniors off scholarship).

Note:  Schools that fund less than 11.7 scholarships, as many smaller D-1 colleges do, may end up looking for more than 8 non-scholarship recruits.


6A. "Non-Scholarship Recruits/Invited-Preferred Walk-ons"

Some schools will fill slots 28-35 by promising/guaranteeing/assuring players that they will have a roster spot. They will “offer” these spots even though no National Letter of Intent will be signed. The player will “accept” the non-binding offer and the school will publicize the commitment. This will benefit the school because it will have a “commitment” from the player that he will be attending that school. Announcing this commitment will, in most cases, prevent other schools from recruiting the player. 

These recruits will be in a very vulnerable position. In most cases all the player will have is a verbal commitment from the school. There may be nothing in writing confirming that commitment. But even if there is, it will be totally non-binding. Injuries, new players on the radar, the MLB draft and other factors could all tempt a school to renege on its commitment to the player.

Admittedly, the school is also in a vulnerable position. The player could decide to go elsewhere.  He would not even have to secure a release from the school as he would have to do had he signed a letter of intent. But the player’s vulnerability is much greater than the school’s. 

If things fall through at the last minute the player may find himself scrambling to find another place to play.  He may have options, including smaller DI schools, DII, DIII and JUCO’s. But these options will do the player little good if he is released right before school starts in August, after fall practice, or even worse, just before the first game in the spring. Remember that the player may also have to sit out a year under the new transfer rule. (See 6B below).

Players and parents should be very careful when it comes to accepting "offers" to be "Non-Scholarship Recruits/Invited Walk-ons". Questions that should be asked include: How many other "Non-Scholarship Recruits/Invited Walk-ons" will there be? Is my son assured a roster spot? Parents and players who accept such "offers" must take a leap of faith. Some will have their faith rewarded. Others will have their hopes dashed when they find 20 walk-ons at fall practice. Hopefully, the word will soon spread with regard to the coaches who can be trusted and those who cannot.


6B. Open Tryouts/Competitive Walk-ons, or “Why don’t you come here and try to walk on?”

Some colleges will undoubtedly have open tryouts, or cattle calls, to fill slots 28-35. However, most will not leave all eight slots to chance. In most cases coaches will already have most of the 35 slots filled (or at least promised) before fall practice starts. In all likelihood DI schools that choose to have open tryouts will probably only be looking for one or two players, if any. Many will not be looking for any true walk-ons. Counting heads to try to predict how many walk-ons a school will take is a risky proposition. Colleges do not have to carry 35 players. Many will choose to carry 30-35. 

Most kids invited to open tryouts will have little chance of making the roster, particularly at a larger DI school.  In most cases these kids would be better off going elsewhere. The new rules increase the risk of a failed walk-on attempt. In many cases players will no longer be able to transfer to another DI or DII school and play the following spring. The new NCAA rules now impose a “transfer year in residence” for such transfers. There is an exception that MAY apply to some attempted walk-ons. However, if the player has taken an official visit, he may not qualify, and may have to sit out a year. The intricacies of this rule are beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say all prospective walk-ons should be wary of the potential effects of an unsuccessful attempt to walk-on. 


7. Don’t Burn Bridges.

First choices sometimes turn into third choices. Second choices often turn into first choices. The bottom line is you never know where your son will ultimately end up. Even if you’re convinced that he will end up at what he thinks is his dream school, always keep the lines of communication open with other schools. If your son decides to accept an offer make sure he calls the other coaches that have made offers and inform them of his decision and thank them for their interest, before they read it in the paper or on the internet.


8. Trust, but Verify.

Coaches will tell you their opinions/understanding about all sorts of things that are totally unrelated to baseball. Prime examples are admissions and financial aid. Classic examples are “He’ll have no trouble getting admitted” or “He should get tons of academic money.”  These are nothing more than opinions. You need to verify such matters with the admissions office, financial aid office, etc. 


9. Don’t Overlook the Smaller Schools.

The main winners under the new 35 man roster limitations are the “mid majors” and smaller DI schools. We are already seeing many players who would normally end up at the large Di schools choosing these schools instead. Many of these schools offer a great education, a great college experience, earlier playing time, and play great schedules against highly-ranked opponents. Recent MLB drafts have proven that scouts have no problem finding players at these schools. These schools may also offer aid packages, both athletic and academic, far greater than the player might get at a bigger name school.


10. Don’t Believe Everything You Hear.

During the recruiting process you and your son will hear many things from coaches, players and parents. Some of it will be true. Some of it will not. Take everything you hear with a grain of salt. Our favorite is “Timmy got a full ride to Podunk University (PU).” Full baseball scholarships are virtually unheard of. Unless Timmy is a likely first round draft pick what you are hearing is probably BS. (And if he’s going to old PU he ain’t a first round draft pick). Timmy might well be getting a full ride, but most of it will be something other than athletic money. 


11. NCAA Stands for “No Clue At All.”

Most of the coaches at the bigger NCAA schools hate the new rules. For some light reading run a Google search for “Ron Polk” and “NCAA rules.” The main problem with the rules is that they totally ignore the biggest problem with college baseball, only 11.7 (or fewer) scholarships for 35 players. (Many smaller schools do not even fund the full 11.7 allowable scholarships). Until this inequity is addressed, college baseball recruiting will remain a minefield for parents, players, and coaches. 


12. Keep Your Priorities Straight.

Remember that a very small percentage of college players ever make a living playing baseball. Ultimately, you must choose the college that is the best fit for your family. Encourage your son to focus on academics in high school so that he can enjoy the luxury of PLANNING to have a career based on his education and interests, while HOPING for a career in baseball. Help him choose a college that will encourage all of his interests and lead him to success and independence.