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NEWS: College Golf Recruiting Figures To Change With New NCAA Rules

Over the past decade, it has become common for college athletic programs to offer scholarships to kids who are several years away from setting foot onto campus.

The incentive for programs is obvious. If they beat the recruiting competition to the punch, they may secure a player who would be more difficult to get if a deeper pool of schools were in the running further down the line. Take the University of Illinois football team, which last year offered a 10-year-old fourth-grade student a scholarship, two weeks after the University of Hawaii offered one to an 11-year-old. And it’s not just revenue-producing sports that are looking at younger students; According to NCAA research, nearly half of Division I softball players receive an offer in or before 10th grade.  

This trend has also occurred in college golf, with a few rare cases of kids committing prior to high school. Brad Dalke, who led the University of Oklahoma to a national championship last year, committed to the Sooners at age 12. Joe Pagdin, a strong player from England, announced his intentions to play at the University of Florida when he was only 13. It’s now fairly routine for a high school underclassmen – or someone younger – to verbally commit.

Why would the student not take additional time to wait and make the most informed decision possible? Some suggests an early decision reduces pressure. A player doesn’t have to worry about impressing college coaches and can focus solely on improvement. Of course there is also the concern of getting lackadaisical once you have been guaranteed a scholarship, but that comes with the territory when you make the decision.

For better or worse, this practice may be coming to an end.  

The NCAA recently announced changes – which apply to all sports except football and basketball – prohibiting student-athletes from making unofficial visits to schools prior to Sept. 1 of their junior year of high school.

Reactions to the news among college coaches is mixed. University of South Florida head coach Steve Bradley feels that the change is mostly positive.

“It had gotten to the point where kids were committing so early, and obviously a lot can change from when they are 13 or 14 to when they are 17 or 18 going to college,” Bradley said. “I think coaches were freaking out, kids were freaking out and parents were freaking out because they didn’t want to get left behind. It kind of got out of control.

“I think with this, the kids will be able to make a more correct, informed decision.”

Connecticut head coach Dave Pezzino agrees.

“Some kids are going to be crushed because they can’t commit early, but I think it’s a good idea to pump the breaks and kick the tires a little bit.”

This doesn’t totally eliminate the possibility of student-athletes committing early. They can still directly call a coach whenever they want and can send whatever communications they wish, although the coach can’t respond until that magic date of Sept. 1. It’s also important to note that students can visit schools whenever they want as long as they don’t meet with anyone in the athletic department during their visit.

And to be fair, there will be loopholes that programs will aggressively pursue. Coaches can still talk with swing instructors whenever they want. A prospective student-athlete can also attend a school’s camp or clinic and take a tour of campus with the coach.

However, it appears it will be much more difficult for a student-athlete to make an educated decision without the aid of true unofficial visits. Prospective students often make commitments based on relationships with coaches, and a shorter recruiting timeline means that a relationship may not truly progress until the student’s junior year of high school. Verbal offers to younger prospects will now have to be made over the phone – and it’s the prospective student-athlete who must call.

In addition to the change surrounding unofficial visits, official visits can now take place starting Sept. 1 of a student-athlete’s junior year as opposed to previously when it had to be during a prospective student’s senior year. Schools pay for official visits, whereas student-athletes or their parents pay for unofficial visits..

“We generally use official visits as more of a celebration,” Pezzino said. “These kids are so diligent that they would make a decision during their unofficial visit, often as freshman and sophomores. We got all of our work done then.”  

Stanford head coach Conrad Ray has mixed emotions, with one of his main concerns being whether it could be harmful to deny kids the resources they need to make a decision.    

“I’m not sure how things will play out,” Ray wrote in an e-mail. “Slowing things down is a good thing but sharing less information for a good choice is not.”

Add Oklahoma State head coach Alan Bratton to the list of those who see both positives and negatives with the new rules. Bratton points out that he likes official visits being able to take place earlier, but he admits the change surrounding unofficial visits will be an adjustment.

“No unofficial visits until junior year is going to be different,” Bratton wrote in an e-mail. “I would like that more if we were able to contact prospects by phone or e-mail or both by their sophomore year.”

The recruiting calendar will also get shorter with periods where the contact permitted between schools and prospects will be minimal. From Thanksgiving Day until the end of the year, there will be a virtual recruiting halt, with some minor exceptions.

“We’re a non-revenue sport and we didn’t have a recruiting calendar,” Bradley said. “We only have four-and-a-half scholarships, so it didn’t make much sense that we could recruit almost 365 days per year.”

The new rules figure to not only change how (and how often) coaches recruit while also yielding fewer student-athletes committing early on in the recruiting process.


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