The Recruiting Game

The velocity of girls verbally committing to play college hockey has been picking up over the last few years and has hit a crescendo this fall.  Here are some numbers to illustrate. These numbers signify how many 9th grade and younger players had verbally committed prior to November 16th of their freshman year for each of the grad years.

2018 Grad Year and prior– 0 athletes

2019 Grad Year–  2 athletes

2020 Grad Year– 5 athletes

2021 Grad Year– 13 athletes

2022 Grad Year– 26 athletes

2023 Grad Year– TBD but there have already been four 8th graders who have verbally committed. 

The NCAA hockey coaches made a determination at last April’s coaches meeting to change some of the recruiting rules.  The primary changes were surrounding official and unofficial visits.  Prior to April of 2018 athletes and their families had no limits on unofficial visits. You could make as many campus visits as you wanted. You were not able to make any official visits until September 1st of your senior year.  Coming out of the April meeting it was determined that you could no longer take unofficial visits prior to September 1st of your junior year but you could start taking official visits starting September 1st of your junior year. There were no changes in the communication rules between coaches and athletes.  Coaches were still able to coordinate calls with athletes prior to September 1st of their junior year through third parties and receive calls that were initiated by the athlete. 

It is just about 100% certainty that coming out of the coaches meeting in April of 2019 there will be a significant change in the communication rules.  The new rule will ban ANY communication between an athlete and a college coach prior to September 1st of the athlete’s junior year.  Coaches will no longer be able to answer calls initiated by the athlete.  No more coordinating calls through third parties. Everything goes kaput. 

This upcoming rule change is a main driver as to why we are seeing the velocity of younger players verbally committing accelerate. I like the way the NCAA is going with their rule changes.  It is much needed.  But there will be some unintended consequences for the younger athletes that have been sucked into the vortex created by the the one year gap between the rule changes.  

Coaches are front running the upcoming rule change by trying to commit the younger kids who they think will continue on their current trajectory.  But by doing so the coaches are taking on more risk. The athlete might not develop as the coach projected, perhaps. Families are taking on additional risk by verbally committing so early. They are risking that the coach and/or coaching staff that recruited their athlete will still be there when it is time for them to enroll, for example.  If the verbal commitment does not work out for either side there is the chance of decommitment. A verbal commitment is non binding. A coach can pull an offer any time and for any reason up until the athlete has signed their NLI during their senior year.  Conversely, an athlete has every right to change their mind anytime and for any reason prior to signing their NLI.  

As a family you feel the pressure of having to make a monumental decision at such a young age,  “If we don’t take the offer now the opportunity will be gone down the road” is a common theme heard from families going through the process.  This is especially true now for the families of the younger athletes that are up against the April 2019 deadline.  

As we see more and more early commits and the risk that comes along with it  and as we see the game of girls hockey continue to grow we will see more and more decommitments as we get closer to 2022 and 2023.  Additionally, you will start to see more transfers as girls get to the colleges they agreed to attend as a 14 year old and realize what they thought they wanted in 9th grade is totally different than what they want as a college freshman or sophomore.  This will be the collateral damage down the road from these super early verbal commitments.  

Perhaps the recruiting strategy for Head Coach Eric Rud of St. Cloud State Women’s Hockey is to be patient and scoop up some of the inevitable decommits and transfers in the coming years.  St. Cloud State has been super quiet having just two 2019s and one 2020 committed.  He will have plenty of scholarship money to throw at girls who decommit prior to signing their NLI. 

University of Wisconsin and Boston College have each already committed 2 girls for the fall of 2023. 

University of Minnesota got in on the class of 2022 early by committing three 9th graders prior to them even starting high school and one 9th grader two weeks into the school year. 

Cornell has committed three 2022.  Two Canadians and one Minnesotan.

Minnesota St. Mankato committed two girls in August of this year prior to the start of their freshman year.  John Harrington is the James Brown of women’s college hockey.  He is at EVERYTHING.

Clarkson and UConn have each recently committed two 2022 Canadians.

Northeastern and Boston College have gotten an early jump on Massachusetts girls by each getting two 2022s.

Keep in mind that this theme is not just specific to hockey.  It is seen across all all sports and both genders.  Lacrosse implemented these same rules a couple years ago, for example. The exceptions going forward will be football and basketball. The big revenue sports.  Too much money in those for the NCAA to make responsible decisions regarding those two sports!

The velocity of committing 2022s and 2023s should continue to accelerate into the April meeting and then will come to a grinding halt. The new rules will be great for everyone in the long run. It will alleviate a ton of the pressure and risk in making such an important decision at such an early age for the families and the college programs. Of course coaches and families will find loopholes but the new rules will accomplish their intended goals. 

3 thoughts on “The Recruiting Game

  1. I have a daughter who is not yet committed, but is in this category of being a young prospect receiving some interest. Our advice to her has been informed by seeing our oldest struggle with his decision about where to go to college (even with phenomenal choices) as a 17 or 18 year old. The idea that a 13 or 14 year old can make a mature decision about college is laughable, and coaches forcing it on kids should be ashamed of themselves. You can look at commitment lists to see which are the biggest offenders. They will claim they have to do it or risk losing out on prospects, but the reality is it’s primarily a couple of coaches guilty of this shameful exploitation of confused parents and vulnerable kids.

    Our advice to our daughter is – wait. If you think you won’t be good enough in a few years or are a bubble kid, committing now won’t prevent a program from walking away. If you are a stud, it doesn’t matter how many spots they have given away – coaches will make room. Waiting also gives you the possible option of choosing your teammates, along with your coach and school. Waiting lets you be sure a school is a fit with your educational goals. Waiting lets you be more sure the coach you’re talking to will be the coach coaching you. Waiting lets you be sure the grind of D1 sports is what you want. Waiting lets you consider financial support that works best for your family (verbal commitment DOES NOT MEAN scholarship – even if they say it does, whereas Ivy league endowments aren’t going down – and financial assistance at many of those private schools are EXTREMELY generous).

    Many are treating this April rule change like it’s a deadline. We are treating it like a welcome reprieve from a broken system.

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    1. This is very thoughtful insight. Thank you for the commentary. You make many great points. Families that are right in the thick of the recruiting process who will be affected by the rule change feel a tremendous amount of pressure to get this figured out by the “deadline”. But if they approach it with a different mindset, like you are, they will get immediate relief. Great feedback.

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  2. Agree wholeheartedly with J–We went thru the experience a number of years ago and made sure our daughter visited schools, took the tour and met with coaches- the goal was for her to find the right college for her to attend and a hockey program she would Keens

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