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IOWA CITY - If the championship track and field meets get canceled, college recruiters will have a harder time evaluating the athletic performance of all athletes.
'I think the opportunities to show yourself are going to be very limited,” UNI director of track and field David Paulsen said. 'That is definitely a big problem.
'We have a lot of kids that come on late in their high school careers that maybe weren't on the radar because they didn't have the best times as juniors but they have really good senior years. So (now) the opportunity is not there for them to perform and allow coaches to see the improvements they have made.
'Those kids will probably end up not being looked at as much or maybe not at all.”
The University of Northern Iowa generally recruits five or six senior athletes between both the men and women's track and field teams at the end of the high school track season, near the state meet. This means its roster is not yet finalized.
'We are always looking for a couple more (athletes) about this time of year, so we are just going to comb through where we thought people were going to be up and coming this year, and (possibly) just take a risk on someone without actually seeing their senior season,” Paulsen said.
Without the opportunity for coaches to watch athletes perform live, video footage of past games or races becomes more important. However, even with this footage, the ability of coaches to assess athletes is limited.
'Everything related to recruiting this spring will get delayed. All programs and student athletes are navigating this new timeline together,” said Drake women's soccer coach Lindsey Horner. 'Coaches can't do much right now as it relates to evaluating prospective athletes. We have time to watch footage that a recruit might share with us at the moment, but the timeline of further evaluating players is on hold.”
If competition at the youth level resumes this summer, Horner expects a lot of the recruiting to take place then.
'This recruiting cycle is very different,” Horner said. 'I would hope coaches and recruits don't make hurried decisions. Ultimately we want prospective student athletes to find the right fit and that takes time.
'If we start recruiting in a panicked state, then we aren't making decisions that are best for our program or our players. While none of us have ever been in this situation, I imagine there will be changes to our normal recruiting procedures.”
Horner recommends high school athletes take this time to research colleges and athletics programs they may be interested in and communicate with their coaches.
'Our world is fighting to save human lives, and this disruption in routine will undoubtedly impact everything, recruiting included,” Horner said. 'When we get the green light to play organized sports again, there will be a new normal.”
Rick Hartzell, athletics director at Upper Iowa University. thinks the recruitment process at his NCAA II school will not be very different compared to past years.
'Coaches will have to recruit students based on last year or last summer's performance and they will most likely have to do it virtually and not in person,” Hartzell said. 'It won't be easy and some recruits will be left out, there is no doubt about that. Not seeing students in person makes the whole matter harder.”
Upper Iowa uses in-person evaluations, recommendations from coaches and videos of past performances to analyze athletes for recruitment decision.
'If (college) seniors come back and you recruit a strong (college) freshman class from the current high school seniors, then there will be a backlog and less interest or scholarships available for current underclass high school students now,” Hartzell said.
Students may be more interested in looking at teams where they are able to get more playing time.
'(Current sophomores and juniors) will have the same opportunities to be recruited,” Hartzell said. 'That does not change. The best ones will get scholarships, but I do think the partial scholarships for less talented (athletes) will be fewer.”
For Division III schools, which do not have any athletic scholarships to distribute, COVID-19 is causing other worries. The Division III head cross country and track and field coach at Grinnell, Evelyn Freeman, is primarily concerned about current seniors' decisions to enroll at Grinnell, since the campus visit scheduled for April was canceled.
'That's a big disadvantage because the visit is, in my opinion, the thing that seals the deal,” Freeman said. 'You can talk to people on the phone, you can look through all the media guides and the letters, but there's nothing like getting on campus and getting a real feel for the place.”
This visit normally includes the student athletes staying overnight with a member of the sports team they are considering joining. It gives them the chance to get a feel for the community and ask questions about the program.
'They meet the team, get to ask the important questions,” Freeman said. 'They get to sit in classes, eat in the dining hall and just kind of hang out and get a real feel for the place.
'That's going to be an important part of the recruiting process and the search process for the incoming students that's going to be lacking this year. It's just gonna make it harder for the seniors to make a decision.”
From college recruiters to current athletes, the ripple effects of COVID-19 are being felt in high school sports. The suspension of current high school sports seasons is a challenge to the current college recruitment system, especially for athletes who hope for scholarships to continue their athletic careers.
'Be(ing) patient is the first step,” Mike Moore, the head coach for the boys' track and field team at City High, said. 'We are in uncharted waters. This year's recruiting process is going to be a new challenge for the college coaches, athletes and high school coaches.”