Pandemic prompts digital pivot for college sports recruitment

February 17, 2022

Varsity softball player Nadia Montiel appreciates the convenience provided by online college sports recruitment. She uses a digital recruitment platform to create an athletic portfolio available to college scouts who are searching for a new recruit but can’t visit campuses in person.

“It’s easier because now the coach will have all this stuff about you or all this information just available with one click,” said senior Montiel, who is a center fielder. “It’s all there. It’s very easy to find.”

In March 2020, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) temporarily paused all in-person contact between college scouts and student-athletes to address safety concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the college sports recruitment process underwent a digital pivot in which college coaches and student-athletes alike turned to online recruitment platforms. 

The most widely used recruiting site has been Next College Student Athlete (NCSA), a for-profit organization that gained popularity during the spring of 2020. During that period, there was a 26% increase in email conversations between coaches and potential recruits, according to an NCSA poll. During quarantine, student-athletes interested in the NCSA were asked to create a profile consisting of their academic standing, primary position and highlight clips displaying their athletic abilities. Obtaining footage for her highlight reel under last year’s COVID-19 safety restrictions proved to be a challenge for Montiel.

“(In) my junior year, there (were) basically no tournaments, no anything,” Montiel said. “So it was hard to get clips of me playing.”

When students returned to campus in the fall, high school athletics made a full recovery including the return of tournaments and virtual recruiting has remained a factor in the scouting process. After completing their profiles, athletes reach out to college coaches to express interest in their respective programs. If mutual interest exists, coaches will carry on the conversation to gather more insight into what kind of a player and student the athlete is. 

Senior Justice Harper, a varsity basketball player for Birmingham Community Charter High School, posts his highlight clips on an online site called Hudl. Harper’s focus, though, is on perfecting his gameplay, trusting that social media and word of mouth will act as sufficient promotion to college scouts. 

“If we win a big game, the word gets around,” said Harper, who plays power forward. “They want to know who’s on the team and stuff like that. That’s really what comes with promoting basketball.”

Along with Harper, varsity lacrosse player Giselle Khalil believes in-person scouting to be the most effective method. She believes that highlight clips do not provide the most accurate representation of an athlete’s skill as opposed to observing the player in person. 

“The pros of being in person would be that (scouts are) able to tell how good they are in general,” Khalil said. “Like if you saw a montage of everybody’s best moments, then you would think that they’re a really good player. You’re seeing the big picture when you’re actually there.”

Despite varying opinions on the current digital components of the college sports recruitment process, Harper advises his fellow student-athletes to maintain a diligent work ethic that will attract the attention of college scouts. 

“You got to play your best all the time because you never know who’s going to be there,” Harper said

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