Looking at the process as a whole, college athletics recruiting is a sort of conundrum. The more you try to make sense of it, the less sense it seems to make. On the one hand, it seems very objective, just a function of a player’s statistics or physical characteristics. On the other hand, the recruiting process is very subjective because it is people-focused. While the stats on the paper, recruiting is not like picking out a computer or cell phone where you can just compare spec sheets- all sorts of varying personalities, egos, and personal preferences are involved. Recruiting is an imperfect science because the human element many times outweighs the objective aspects.
College athletics recruiting is also a business, in fact it is a big business, and this adds another layer of complexity. The recruiting process is also harder to grasp for some individuals because they fail to understand this from the angle of the university. Your first reaction may be, “recruiting isn’t a business, the schools don’t make any money off of it!” Well if recruiting isn’t a business, then why do schools have such large recruiting budgets? Why does ESPN have weekly shows dedicated to it? Why are there countless writers and websites documenting every recruiting move? Why do recruiting coordinators get paid six figure salaries?
The answer to these questions is fairly simple. College coaches’ jobs are mostly dependent on wins and losses. Recruiting better players leads to more wins and less losses. Therefore, a coach’s job security is directly related to how successful they are in recruiting. This isn’t to say that coaches do not bring in players that they can mold and develop, but if you listen to coaches who are interviewed about their recruiting strategy, they emphasize how they prefer players who come in well-rounded and polished and that only need minor adjustments to excel. This is because coaches need to win sooner rather than later, which generally means bringing in recruits who will be ready to contribute in 1-2 years as opposed to 3-4.
Why is this important to consider? Much like any other business, the recruiting “industry” is highly competitive. Every coach and school is trying to get and edge or maintain the upper hand. Recruiters are constantly looking for ways to stay ahead of the curve and stay there. Also like the business world, when there is a new commodity, in this case it could be a tournament, showcase, team, etc., once a few programs adopt it in recruiting, others must quickly follow suit or risk being left behind.
What does this mean for young players who are hopeful recruits? Well, it means that when the recruiting process begins certain trends, you more or less need to follow along. Once the coaching community makes a shift towards a certain practice and the competition begins, there’s no looking back. Think of it this way – if one school found a recruiting advantage and no other schools tried to level the playing field, the first school would keep that advantage and the other schools would continuously lose out on recruits. The same is true for players – there is a finite amount of scholarships and roster spots on college athletic teams, so if players have found an edge on how to get themselves recruited, they will get those spots and those that didn’t follow suit may get left out on going to the school they want or of playing at the next level altogether.
College baseball recruiting is a perfect example of this. For this sport, there are currently two trends in recruiting. First, the recruiting process is beginning earlier in the player’s high school career, if not earlier than that. Many DI schools, and not just the top programs, begin recruiting kids in their freshman or sophomore year and get them to commit even before they are juniors. Therefore if you wait until your junior or senior year to get serious about recruiting, many scholarship opportunities may have already passed you by without you even realizing it. Second, travel ball, club ball, or whatever you want to call it, is becoming increasingly influential in recruiting and high school baseball is diminishing. Sure, everyone has had a bad experience with a travel ball coach or some other complaint, but the reality is that this is the way college coaches are moving, so players have to do the same. If you are playing Seniors Little League on the field out behind your school at the same time other players with similar, maybe even less talent, are out at tournaments with thousands of prospects like Perfect Game, they are going to be seen and you are not. If your high school coach tells you to play Little League or Babe Ruth or American Legion or whatever team he runs for the summer and you do that, you aren’t going to be seen. It’s like trying to play a VHS tape in a DVD player- once DVD’s came out people eventually stopped making VHS tapes, so if you didn’t get the DVD, you weren’t going to watch the movie. There may be some weird contraption you can buy to convert your VHS to a DVD, but it takes way more effort and it doesn’t ever seem to work right.
At the end of the day, recruiting is a business, and just like any other business it is highly competitive. Everyone is looking for an edge and the next way they can get it, and in an environment where each individual is trying to stay ahead of the curve, if you don’t get on that curve with them you risk being left behind.