Covid has changed a lot in our world. It has changed how we work, how we shop, how we travel and how we eat. Unfortunately it, along with the transfer portal, has also dramatically changed the environment for college basketball players and recruits.
College athletes typically get 4 years of eligibility (some get 5 due to a process called Red-Shirting), but because of Covid, each college basketball player who was on a team for the 2020-21 season has been given the option of a 5th year of eligibility, meaning that there are now fewer scholarships available for high school athletes graduating between 2021 and 2024, and no one knows how many of these current college athletes will take their 5th year, which creates a huge unknown for college coaches.
Add the transfer portal, which now allows all college athletes one opportunity each to transfer from one school to another without penalty (having to sit out), and you have an entirely different recruiting environment from what we previously had. The primary focus of recruiting has now moved from high school athletes to college transfers who may have already proven their ability to play at that level, and require fewer years of scholarship commitment from the program, allowing coaches to have more flexibility with less risk.
Why does this matter to high school athletes? Everything is a numbers game, and when you understand the numbers, you can adjust your expectations and plan, and still find success. In a typical year (pre-Covid), there are approximately 7500 scholarship opportunities across all levels of women’s college basketball; 2500 D1, 2000 D2, and 3000 D3, NAIA and JUCO. These numbers equate to about 4% of high school athletes going on to play some level of college basketball. Of the 3000 D3, NAIA and JUCO athletes, many go on to play at another level. For instance, roughly half of JUCO athletes go on to play at a four year institution (NAIA, D3, D2, D1) after completing their two years of JUCO. Some NAIA and D3 athletes move on to play at the D2 and D1 levels, but most do not.
Covid, and the Transfer Portal, however, has thrown all of these numbers out the window. As I wrote above, no one knows how many of the current college athletes will choose to play a 5th year. But for the sake of this article, we will estimate it at 50%. Again, this number could be higher or lower. But assuming 50%, this changes the number of D1 openings from 2500 to just 1250, D2 from 2000 to 1000, and D3, NAIA and JUCO from 3000 to 1500 until 2025. * JUCO will only be affected until 2023.
The most obvious effect of this is that there will be fewer available scholarships at every level for high school athletes until 2025, but the bigger effect is the level at which these potential college athletes will find themselves playing. If 2500 athletes are considered to be of D1 talent, in a typical year, but the number of scholarships is cut to only 1250, 1250 will be pushed down to the D2, NAIA and JUCO levels. This now leaves the 2000 kids who would typically be D2 level recruits, being completely pushed out of the D2 level into the D3, NAIA and JUCO positions, which now squeezes a large number of typical D3, NAIA and JUCO recruits completely out of the recruiting process.
These changes in the recruiting environment can be difficult on kids and parents who have had their sights set on a particular school or level of play for years. It is definitely an unfortunate situation, but all is not lost if you are willing to adapt. I have been telling kids and parents for years that people are happiest and most content when their expectations match reality. Since reality has changed, the happiest people will be those who adjust their expectations and work accordingly.
There are certain kids who are no doubt D1 athletes. These recruits will find themselves fielding fewer offers, but will still not see much difference in their recruiting. These kids represent maybe the top 15-25% of D1 athletes in their recruiting class. The remainder of the D1 recruits will find themselves receiving far fewer offers, and many with time limits for accepting. The competition for these remaining D1 scholarships will be intense.
The remaining group of typical D1 recruits will find themselves competing for the limited number of D2 spots, as D2 coaches eye the Transfer Portal for current D1 athletes transferring out of their current programs looking for more playing time, new environments, etc. The mindset of D1 or bust must die, and these athletes must recognize that things have changed, and D2 is just as great of an opportunity as D1.
Another option for players who believe that they can play D1, but are not yet getting an offer, may be the JUCO route. There are amazing athletes and programs at the JUCO level, and they offer a serious opportunity to play immediately. You do not enter as a freshman looking at 3 classes of athletes ahead of you. As a freshman, you can find yourself immediately contributing. And the added bonus is that you get to prove yourself as a college student and athlete for two years, then get the opportunity to play another two years at a four year institution after that.
Recognize this: if you are a D1, D2, or NAIA college coach, and you have a limited number of scholarships available, which are you more likely to recruit? A high school athlete who has never played college basketball, never passed a college class schedule, and who will tie up a scholarship for 4 years, OR do you recruit a kid who has completed 2 years of college studies, adjusted to the schedule of college sports/studies, who has proven they can play at the college level, and will only tie up a scholarship for two years if they are not successful? The answer is pretty clear.
So what do you do as a high school player trying to play college basketball other than adjust your expectations? You need to separate yourself from the thousands of other recruits by:
1) proving yourself to be a solid student. the days of 2.75 high school GPA’s are gone. Don’t be the 3.2 student. Be the 3.5, 3.75 or 4.0 student. Having the higher GPA and test scores will place you ahead of another recruit who may be more athletic, but who is a bigger risk academically.
2) get your butt in the gym. In this increasingly competitive environment, you need to fix the holes in your game and take other areas to another level. You need to get stronger, faster and mor explosive. You can’t use the excuse “once I get to college, I’ll fix that.” College coaches don’t fix much. They coach their team, and if you aren’t their best option, you won’t be recruited or smell the court.
3) you need to be relentless in researching and contacting schools. That does not mean sending out the same generic form letter to 100 college coaches. It means researching schools, programs and coaches to find where you best fit, then making your case for how you can help their team win more than another recruit can.
You can play at the next level, but it will require a lot more work in the classroom, on the court and in marketing yourself to coaches. The question is “How bad do you REALLY want it?”