Understanding recruiting helps find right college home

Updated: May 8, 2012

By Bryan Van Kley

It’s that time of the year again: the spring signing period. It is probably the most stressful time of the year for high school seniors, their parents and many college coaches. The odd courtship period has come to end and it’s time for both the kids and college coaches to “show their cards.”

WIN Publisher Bryan Van Kley

Every year I hear frustrations from both sides. There’s often a communication breakdown between high school families and college coaches. Like professional athletes holding out for the top contract, some high-achieving wrestlers feel if they wait to the spring their stock and the scholarship offer will improve dramatically.

After winning state as a senior, many think the likes of Penn State, Minnesota, Iowa, Cornell and Oklahoma State will be busting down their door with the full-ride offer. This is not a reality.

Unfortunately, a lot of the pain created in this recruiting process comes from the dads and coaches of high school juniors and seniors. They falsely believe their son or the top wrestler on their team is quite a bit better than the rest of his peers and aren’t looking at the situation objectively.

Here’s a few recruiting myths to dispel:

         1. “I deserve a full ride in college”

No, actually you don’t. There are actually very few full rides given anymore, especially on the Division I level. Kids have dreamed of that “full-ride” wrestling offer like their buddy got to play football at School XYZ. The wrestler feels he deserves it, after all he’s a three-time state champ.

As many in wrestling know, that’s just not reality. There are less than 80 Division I programs. A large number of them aren’t even fully funded with 9.9 scholarships. Parents, coaches and preps would probably be shocked to see how many multiple-time state champs who’ve even won tournaments like Fargo, NHSCA Nationals or the Ironman have signed for 50 or 25 percent or much less!

Parents’ and coaches’ egos unfortunately hurt the kids in this process too often. Parents or a particular coach want to be saying to their friends that their phone has been ringing off the wall with all these college coaches wanting to talk to their son or wrestler. Encouraging kids to find the college that’s the right fit for them is the best approach.

I totally understand a good college education is incredibly expensive anymore. I also understand that in the world of private clubs and coaches, parents are looking at the thousands of dollars they’ve already spent to send little Johnny to twice-weekly club practices, trips and to buy all his gear. Parents are ready for someone else to be footing the “wrestling bill.”

This may be the case, but college coaches don’t have the financial resources to be that person.

         2.) “After winning states as a senior, all the schools will want me in the spring.”

It would be impossible to know exactly, but a large portion of the scholarship money available each year is gone in the fall at the Division I level. Just look at the fall recruiting rankings each year and see the number of ranked preps who sign then.

Schools only have so much money to give out. Preps who wait until spring are taking a risk of there not being money left or not being able to get an offer at all.

College coaches don’t like kids/families playing hardball in the negotiating process. Most of the time, it probably works against the kid looking for the right program. When a college coach says he won’t guarantee his offer will be good in two months without a firm commitment, they mean it.

Don’t be upset or feel slighted when they sign the next 133-pounder in line just because you decided to look at two or three other schools or that acting like you weren’t “that interested” might up their offer.

It’s good for a student-athlete to go through the recruiting process and see which coach and program would be best for them. But have some humility in the process, be respectful, and understand these coaches and their assistants have a job to do.

         3.) “It’s Division I or nothing for me”

Then it will probably be nothing. It’s not hard to do the math on how few kids every year get the opportunity to wrestle on the Division I level. And you don’t have to even just look at scholarship kids. Many schools have squad caps and sometimes only sign six to eight kids total, or less in some situations. And a number of those kids may be asked to walk on or only have books taken care of by the school.

As we’ve written in the past in WIN, there are a number of great wrestling schools in every division. In many situations, Division I is probably not the best fit for high school seniors. Many of the top programs in Div. II, Div. III and even some NAIA programs are just as competitive, if not more, than some lower-tier Division I programs.

At the end of the day, it’s all about the education and athletic experience a student athlete is going to get. As parents and coaches, one of the biggest overriding questions should be is if the coaching staff and school are going to help the young man be successful. Both on and off the mat. Having a realistic view of the process and what schools can offer will help both high school families and the college coaches just trying to do their job.

Best of luck to all of you who are trying to finalize this all-important decision as to what the next chapter looks like for your high school senior.