The Emerging Struggle to Get Prospects to Commit to Visiting Campus

Many coaches are observing this troubling new trend. Here's an approach to try...

One of the great things about working with the intelligent, insightful group of experts I get to work with here at Tudor Collegiate Strategies is the conversations I get to listen to on a regular basis between our staff. Collectively, we’re all smarter than a single person, and when we put our heads together to serve our clients, it’s amazing to see those insights come to life in the form of answers and strategies coaching staffs use to win better recruits.

This weekend, Dan Christensen here on our staff asked a group question to all of us about a Division I client we work with who was feeling like they were late to the game when it’s coming to campus visits - they were struggling to get prospects to commit to visits, and feel like they were even being passed over in favor of other programs.

Many coaches all over country are experiencing this phenomenon, actually. And not just large campuses…small and medium sized schools from all division levels are reporting an accelerated feel to campus visits, decision making, and the process itself.

Enter one of our other staff experts, Paul Nemetz-Carlson. He had some great observations as our internal conversation unfolded, and I want to share it with you, and then offer some takeaways after you read Coach Nemetz-Carlson’s insights:

It’s interesting - we’re not pushing early visits with programs that have a hurdle to overcome. For example: they are unknown, possibly have a negative perception, or a performance history question.  It’s because they need time to be able to tell a story of why they’re worthy of their prospects interest and time. This applies to most lower division level schools and the ones whose primary focus is enrollment or roster size.  

However,  we’re actually doing different things when we create June 15 and September 1 plans for DI programs - especially the women’s programs.  In fact, I think our real goal is to get them to visit early and cancel the other visits they’ve scheduled after because they’ve committed and found their fit.  In that landscape we’ve been pushing coaches away from the “take all your visits, see all your options” approach because unless you’re one of the best, you’re negotiating from a position of weakness.  It’s not bold enough, and the athletes outside of some select sports all seem to want, and be comfortable with, and are aware of the faster timeline for limited spots. 

Because even though schools may not be committing 8th and 9th graders with the delaying of first contact any longer, the process has remained a sprint.  There are only five official visits it’s important to get them upfront. I’d be curious if others have thoughts here - but I’ve talked to a lot of coaches who are struggling with the timing of official visits.  Mostly internally with themselves because the rules changed and it’s not how they’ve always done it.  Now that they can happen starting August before an athlete’s junior year or on September 1st for some sports, I don’t think it’s terrible if they have athletes on campus in August that are there at the same time.  Or at least at many campuses around a September football game, because regardless of the football teams success that’s what the “big time” programs are doing, you can look at the sideline posts of most out-of-season programs or the things included in stadium upgrades - recruiting rooms and other perks.  Part of it is the copy cat world that encourages college athletic programs to be perceived as “like the best” even if they’re not there yet.

I would argue coaches asking for, and expecting, visits from top athletes reinforces with the top athletes that this is a destination and they don’t want to miss out.  If they’re not being pushed and asked to visit, the question for the recruits becomes ‘do they want me or do they believe they’re as good as the top programs’.  Do they wait until the best choose and then settle on the next tier of prospects? Or, wonder if they themselves are a settle, or if choosing them is settling.

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I think the frustrations from the coaches are that without being part of the conversation early, they don’t have access to the no brainers and best athletes.  Been there - it’s why recruiting kept getting earlier and earlier. When they don’t get in early or first they’re relying on the late bloomers or improvement and it’s an evaluation guessing game.  Plus, in a timed or measured sport where they monitor it all, everyone else can easily see that improvement, will be interested and they are back to square one - recruiting highly-desirable athletes in a crowded field.

My one suggestion to you would be to have them in all their conversations that educate them about the process is to say “this is what we see the best athletes doing” and “because we’re one of the best programs - competing with and against the best - this is what the athletes we’re taking to are doing.”  You don’t get to expand on what makes you distinct and different if they don’t see you as similar to the schools they’re looking at.  Standing out in a comparison only happens when they agree that you’re comparable.

Lastly, I’ve seen quite a bit of early DI commitment - 23’s - from the next tier down group of schools…those who don’t roll off the tongue of annual National Championship in their respective division or sport, but will be in the conversation every once in a while. With those guys, I feel they’ve always waited for a little of the tickle down but have realized that might not be how kids are approaching it these days with all the prospect angst about limited roster spots, extra years of eligibility, and all that’s changed in recruiting in recent years.  

If they know your story, and like it, kids are ready to act with less information. Coaches who want to be in the conversation with the best talent need to be too.

Some wrap-up thoughts on what our staff is observing out in the marketplace as we start the 2021-2022 recruiting year, and what we’re helping coaches with in our daily work with their coaching staffs:

  • Beginning during the 2020 COVID crisis, we saw an acceleration in the commitment timeline among many, many recruits. Are you adapting your approach to account for this continuing trend?

  • A lot of coaches are realizing that some of the traditional aspects of recruiting - like in-person campus visits, a tour of the school, and other mainstays - are no longer required when it comes to making a decision. Facetime video and other replacement resources can help speed up a recruit’s ability to make a decision without being there on your campus face-to-face. That may not be the way you would want to choose a college, but for a growing number of student-athletes, it’s good enough for them to feel comfortable committing. Not always, but often enough.

  • Lastly, I love what Paul says about ‘educating’ prospects about the process. You, as a coach at your school, have a responsibility to explain what the process is, and how it should be followed. Nobody else is going to do that for you, and if you don’t do it, most prospects will invent their own reasons for taking (or not taking) action with you and your program. And if they don’t invent their own process, your competition will certainly be willing to help.

The world has changed drastically for college sports, recruiting, and the decision making process. If you aren’t adapting to these new trends, expect to continue to struggle when it comes to securing campus visits, and converting those visits into committed recruits.