The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will almost certainly extend years into the future as colleges and the NCAA restructure their budgets. More immediately, the cancellation of spring athletic activities is dramatically changing the recruiting process for nearly all Bowdoin teams, forcing coaches to adapt and find new methods to attract potential student-athletes.
In an unsurprising decision, NESCAC Athletic Directors and Presidents announced on April 9 that they had agreed to prohibit all forms of in-person recruiting through June 15 to comply with social distancing regulations. The conference outlined that the only authorized recruiting activities during this time frame would be communicating via email, phone, written letters or social media.
Each sport’s recruiting cycle is dictated by a number of factors, including when in the year the season is and how many years out the coaches start communicating with recruits. The in-person recruiting ban is disproportionately affecting certain sports, but nearly every team’s cycle has been affected, coaches say, and continuing the recruiting process will require more and more flexibility the longer these circumstances continue.
For many fall sports, the spring and summer is prime recruiting season. Coaches would normally be travelling across the country to size up prospects at recruiting camps, and teams would be hosting dozens of recruits to campus to meet the players and get a feel for the program.
“In a typical year, anywhere between February and late August is where we spend most of our time really hammering down into our depth charts and evaluating players pretty much on [an] every-weekend basis, with summer camps with club tournaments and clinics,” said men’s soccer Head Coach Scott Wiercinski in a phone interview with the Orient. “This hiatus that we’re going through right now is essentially throwing a huge monkey wrench into those works.”
Wiercinski also considers one one of the most significant losses to be on the player’s side. For programs like the men’s soccer team and many other Bowdoin sports, allowing recruits to get a sense of the school and team culture through a campus visit or overnight stay is an essential part of the recruiting process. Without that possibility, it will prove challenging to cultivate the same level of engagement.
“We would have generally hosted maybe 45 or 50 candidates to campus in the spring,” said Wiercinski. “Now in the semester is a great time for them to visit because they get to really absorb the academic energy of campus … [Spring visits] are the best way for us to dive into a candidate’s pedigree, just because we get to work with them and see him on the field, and then they get to explore Bowdoin by living in the dorms, eating the dining hall food and all that kind of stuff. So that’s a big vacancy in our recruiting process … the candidates looking at Bowdoin really can’t really explore us any further.”
Wiercinski is conscious of the possibility that, should circumstances necessitate an extension of restricted recruiting activities or even a suspension of the fall season, the recruiting process for the next few years could veer sharply from what has become the accepted model.
“It’s possible that we get to a point where we’re going to need to make a decision based on kids with less information than we’re accustomed to, and less information than we’re really comfortable with,” said Wiercinski. “But we’re really going to exhaust every opportunity … before we just roll the dice, and say, ‘man, we’re going to gamble with this guy.’”
However, some coaches’ recruiting activities have thus far been relatively unaffected. For some winter sports such as men’s ice hockey, the spring is generally a quieter time during the recruiting cycle, and coaches have been able to proceed with their normal activities without too much adjustment. Because hockey often recruits a few years ahead from a pool of Junior-level players who have already graduated high school, limited contact for the next few months will not have a huge impact on recruiting in the near future, and if it does have any effects they will likely be felt years ahead.
“From a timing perspective, if you look at it, [this crisis] probably did fall at the right time for ice hockey,” said men’s ice hockey Head Coach Jamie Dumont. “Most hockey seasons are over in May, Junior[-level-]wise, and prep schools are done in March. So from that perspective, from a recruiting perspective, I would say it probably would be the best time. But there is really no good time.”
Likewise, the Nordic ski recruiting cycle is such that, at least so far, curtailed recruiting activities have not had a severe impact for Head Coach Nathan Alsobrook. However, he foresees that it could become more challenging to lure potential athletes to Bowdoin without a campus visit.
“The big challenge I’m going to have is that when when ski recruits look at colleges, their first thought is not like, hey, let’s go to the small college on the east coast,” said Alsobrook in a phone interview with the Orient. “There are a lot of more well established programs in more traditional ski [areas] than here. And so for us, the way we are able to get the attention of recruits is when they come to visit us, and they engage with the students and they see the beautiful campus and they have a chance to talk in person with me and try to see if our philosophy is compatible with theirs.”
Just like everyone else, athletic coaches are being forced to adapt to this new reality and find creative means to pursue recruits and engage with potential athletes virtually. It’s hard to predict exactly what the implications this crisis will have on Bowdoin recruiting classes going forward, but coaches are doing their best to give current prospects as close as they can to the same recruiting experience they would normally go through.