Lincoln Southwest volleyball player Shaylee Myers just wanted to go somewhere warmer. The star outside hitter had two important activities: tan on the trampoline and field calls from college coaches looking to recruit her.
Shaylee’s mother, Natalie, remembers many of those phone calls and discussions. She remembers when her daughter’s mind was made up.
“They called her all the time, and one day, they asked her about her plans for the day,” Natalie Myers said. “She said she was going to tan on the trampoline. He said he knew right then he really wanted her to come to Fresno State.”
The sun-soaked campus of Fresno State University in southern California was the destination for Myers. She made the decision without an in-person visit from her future coaches, nor was she allowed to travel and visit the campus. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, a virtual visit had to suffice.
The NCAA estimates that around eight million high school students are involved in athletics. About 500,000 of those compete in college. It’s a large group to pare down, especially when limited scholarships are available. For those offered a coveted scholarship, the ability to meet face-to face with coaches or step foot on a college campus has totally vanished.
In a normal year, the NCAA enacts dead periods in which college coaches cannot have face-to-face, in-person contact with a high school athlete or their families. It’s a cyclical way to give prospective student-athletes some space to think about their college choice, according to Next College Student Athlete.
Dead periods usually last a few weeks. With the rise of the coronavirus pandemic, however, athletes and coaches have been stuck in a perpetual dead period for almost a year. For now, it will stay in place until at least May 31.
Myers’ coaches are unsure when they will see their start recruit in person for the first time.
“They have no idea,” Natalie Myers said.
The dead period’s prohibition of in-person contact creates a major obstacle for many athletes. It is perhaps most detrimental to under-the-radar prospects looking for their shot to earn an athletic scholarship, according to Mike Schaefer of 247Sports.
“You have schools in California, Hawaii, Illinois, New York and Virginia that just didn’t play football at all,” Schaefer said. “Those 2022 recruits just have their film from sophomore year. If you didn’t make varsity or if you’re a backup and you didn’t have a campushave campus that you could go to, your recruitment is going to be a little squirrely.”
Schaefer, a recruiting expert covering Nebraska football since 2011, says while major programs like Nebraska have done its best to adjust, some aspects of virtual scouting can’t be accounted for.
“You don’t get to see these guys in person, and that matters even more than just being able to tell if a guy is a legit 6’0”, or if he’s actually 5’10”,” Schaefer said. “Believe it or not, the internet is not the most accurate source for people’s heights.”
Factors that determine a collegiate athlete’s success, Schaefer said will still be the same: finding the right fit, adjusting to college life and connecting with coaches who will help them reach their potential. However, checking all these boxes during a pandemic can be more difficult.
The looming question for many high school athletes is how they can raise their own recruiting stock without the benefit of in-person scouring.
University of Louisiana-Monroe head volleyball coach Charlie Olson said that video has been the primary way for athletes to stand out.
“Video is king,” Olson said. “It’s been super helpful that companies like BallerTV have been streaming so many events, but it’s only helpful if teams can wear jerseys that we can actually see on the far side of the court.”
Olson said he has three commits from the Class of 2021 who he has never met face-to-face. One of them is Logan Jeffus of Papillion, Nebraska, a vastly different landscape than the muggy college town in northern Louisiana. Drawn in by highlights of Jeffus, Olson then did all his recruiting virtually.
Along with film, the primary recruiting tools for Olson have become FaceTime and Zoom. For Shaylee Myers, it was a daily phone call with her coaches and a desire to go somewhere sunny and warmer.
For those who athletes who are yet to receive those calls, Schaefer says that being proactive and having support networks is critical.
“I think athletes have to be their advocate, and then they need their coaches or someone at their school involved to be able to help disseminate their film and get them in touch with people,” said Schaefer.
Coaches, too, have to scramble to put together rosters based on nothing but online video clips.
High school athletes are even more in the spotlight, needing to make themselves known over the computer.
“The athlete has a lot of onus on themselves to go and try to market themselves as best they can,” Schaefer said. “Then they give themselves the best opportunity to be recruited.”