The cancelation of the high school sports season has had an immediate impact on every athlete, but perhaps even more so on those hoping for a college scholarship, since they no longer have the chance to showcase their talent on the field of competition. But those effects will not just be contained within the last few months of the 2019-20 school year. College recruiting has also been severely impacted due to a lack of games and showcases, plus the inability to have in-person contact between student-athletes and college coaches.
Technology has helped to bridge that gap in many ways, allowing for coaches to talk with recruits over the phone and to assess video of recruits, even if they can’t see them play in person.
“Obviously it’s become much more technology-based,” admitted Daniel Costanza, assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for Long Beach State baseball. “But it comes down to the relationships you have. (Our coaching staff) has identified players we like before this pandemic took place, so when this all hit and everyone was stuck inside it allowed us to build phone relationships with these guys.”
Those relationships have paid off for the Dirtbags’ coaching staff, which has already earned a handful of commitments since the shutdown was put in place, including landing local standout Ryan Geck from Millikan.
Costanza said that the prevalence of video via recruiting sites or on a player’s social media accounts has certainly helped in identifying prospects. And while the recruitment process isn’t what it used to be—leaving players and coaches unable to communicate at games or on campus visits—the new methods of recruiting can actually reveal a lot about a prospective student-athlete.
“During this time you get a lot of kids that call you and are diligent about communicating with you,” Constanza explained. “It shows you a lot about who they are going to be like when they get into your program. If I have to hound a kid over and over to talk to them on the phone, then they might not be right for us … You start to put all that stuff together and you figure out if that’s someone that you want to have as part of your program.”
Since prospects are unable to visit campuses or see facilities in person, online facilities pages and virtual campus tours have been in high demand. Costanza has encouraged recruits to do their research about the program, the university, and the facilities, so that time spent on the phone can be used to discuss the bigger picture.
“(Recruits) can go on the website and see the locker room and get all the information they really need,” Costanza said. “Then when we get them on the phone we get to talk about important stuff: school, baseball, and what Long Beach State can do for you both academically and from a developmental side, with us as coaches and our reputation for developing players.”
At Long Beach City College, newly promoted Interim Director of Basketball Operations Barry Barnes has had to rely on his local recruiting ties in order to ensure he fields a full squad next season. Set to enter his 12th season as head coach for the Vikings men’s team, Barnes is optimistic that he will fare better than some of his counterparts with the restricted evaluating and recruitment period of high school seniors.
“One of the things working in my favor, if you look at my roster, I’ve had success with a lot of local kids,” said Barnes. “Before COVID-19 hit, I had a bunch of local kids lined up … I’ve been successful in recruiting kids throughout the process and bringing them to games. It’s worked well for me because I’ve been able to recruit local kids, but it is kind of devastating to other teams around my conference.”
The current communication between coaches and recruits has switched from face-to-face meetings and workouts to primarily texting or FaceTime calls. And while Barnes will be able to build on his existing relationships with local recruits in the short-term, it will be difficult to identify new talent over this offseason. In the absence of summer showcases or travel ball, coaches must rely more on their existing crop of prospective recruits in order to fill out their rosters for next season.
Fortunately for Barnes, he has eight players set to return from last year’s team, and has remained in communication with them during the shutdown. As basketball has taken a backseat, he has stressed the importance of classwork on his retiring players in order to remain eligible and on track to graduate.
“The key is academics. I’m really stressing that they must pass these classes, they must stay in touch with their teachers and complete their work,” Barnes stated, while highlighting the challenges of distance learning for his players, who are now taking classes online rather than in person. “We’ve got to make sure our players are good academically, and I’ve been stressing that more than anything.”
Like most human interactions these days, college recruiting has become digitized, and therefore limited. But for coaches that can adapt to the changing world, there are some advantages to be found, for whenever sports are able to return.