There were almost eight million high school students participating in athletics during the 2018 and 2019 school years (NCAA). Of the nearly eight million, just above 7% of those high school student-athletes played collegiate sports (NCAA). That results in approximately one in every thirteen high school athletes continuing to play collegiate sports. Additionally, less than 2% of high school athletes compete in NCAA Division 1 athletics (NCAA). These numbers are intimidating, yet achievable. In this blog, our coaches Savannah Uhlir (California Baptist University Swim & Dive 2016-2020) and Ryan Sullivan (Fresno State Baseball 2015-2020) provide unique insight into their experiences as high school and NCAA Division 1 athlete for championship-winning programs. More specifically, they will share their specific experience with the recruiting process as high school athletes.
I continued my athletic and academic career at Fresno State, competing for the Fresno State baseball program from 2015-2020. I suffered a UCL tear after my freshman year, requiring UCL reconstruction surgery, better known as Tommy John surgery. This resulted in a redshirt year during my sophomore season. My final year competing for Fresno State was in 2020 and ended abruptly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. An additional year was allotted by the NCAA to spring sport seniors, but after much consideration, I elected to end my baseball playing career and begin my professional endeavors.
In this blog, I would like to share my personal experience with the recruiting process as a high school athlete. During my high school athletic career, I competed for both football and baseball Varsity programs. I was also recruited by Division 1 programs for both sports. However, my recruiting experiences varied tremendously from football to baseball.
My baseball recruiting process began a year prior to my football recruiting process. I received attention from Division 1 collegiate baseball programs during my sophomore season in high school. In comparison, I began receiving attention from Division 1 schools directly after my junior year football season. One of the major differences between the two recruiting processes surrounds the ability to play baseball year-round. A large majority of recruiting occurs during summer and fall when college baseball coaches are out of season and able to travel to recruit prospects. These coaches are actually able to watch players perform during the summer and into the fall during this off-season. In comparison, college football recruiters do not have the same luxury. College football recruiters also conduct significant amounts of recruiting during the off-season; however, they are not able to view players perform in the same respect as baseball coaches. There are numerous opportunities to view football practices and other competitions such as 7 on 7 tournaments, but these are all non-contact activities. This aspect of the football off-season hinders football recruiters from fully evaluating prospects. Therefore, a significant amount of talent evaluation for football surrounds the high school season. Whereas baseball talent evaluation is significantly based around the summer and fall seasons with outside organizations.
Another significant difference between the baseball and football recruiting processes involves the strategies used to recruit players in the respective sports. In the baseball recruiting process, numerous programs and coaches use what I will refer to as the deadline strategy. This strategy is based on college coaches giving high school prospects specific deadlines after giving the athlete a scholarship offer. The deadline refers to a specified date on which the athlete must aspect (verbally commit) or decline the scholarship offer. Some programs will allow upwards of a month to a few months, and some programs demand an answer as soon as a week to two weeks. Football does not utilize this deadline strategy. The reason college baseball programs use this strategy is that programs are only provided 11.7% of the entire athletic department’s athletic scholarship funding. This results in a significantly increased sense of urgency amongst college baseball coaches. Coaches use the deadline strategy because they require commitments faster than football programs. There is tremendously less money surrounding college baseball programs than college football programs.
Another major variant between college baseball and football recruiting is the difference between recruiting committed athletes. In the baseball recruiting process, once an athlete has committed to a program, it is very seldom another college baseball program will actively recruits this committed player. In comparison, college football programs will continue to offer scholarships and actively recruit committed athletes.
All of these differences in the recruiting processes for football and baseball applied to my personal experience. I received offers from both Division 1 college football and baseball programs. Once I received an offer from Fresno State, the coaching staff utilized the deadline strategy. I went on my official recruiting visit and received the official offer reviewing the financials and details of the scholarship offer. I was then allotted a specific deadline to either accept or decline the offer. After careful consideration, I elected to accept the offer, committing to Fresno State to play baseball. Once I committed, the other college baseball programs discounted their recruiting efforts.
However, a number of the football programs actively recruited me shortly after my commitment to play baseball.
After facing a severe injury just before junior year of high school, I started a new sport on a competitive team the summer before senior year. I was able to continue this new sport of diving at California Baptist University in 2016. Our mid-season meets in Las Vegas sophomore year left me with a torn meniscus on the bus ride home for Christmas break. A few months later after flying home from NCAA’s, surgery was scheduled for the next week. With a recovery timeline of about 8-12 weeks and PT, I was back on the boards training for junior season. Senior year came to an end due to the national pandemic just two weeks before Zones was scheduled, which led me back home to Fresno to start my life and career post-sport.
Due to my path into the sport and collegiate level, my recruiting experience differed greatly from the average high school athlete. When my goal to be a collegiate gymnast was no longer a reality; I started club diving. Being a senior already meant, I was years behind where college coaches and recruiters are looking. My perspective changed to picking a school that I loved for the education and atmosphere where diving was merely an option. This led me to visit schools across the west coast while managing emailing coaches across the US who would have an open spot on the team for me. With a profile on a recruiting website I was receiving emails and phone calls for scholarship offers from DII, and small DI schools. Ultimately, I decided to go where I felt comfortable to grow into my own self and woman. This meant that I accepted a spot on the California Baptist University Dive Team as a DII team in the transition to compete within a DI conference.
Just as everybody’s life story is different, so is their recruiting experience. Even though these various components to college athletics recruiting are common, every athlete’s recruiting process varies. Some high-profile prospects receive incredible amounts of attention, while other prospects grind it out, seeking the attention of less than a handful of programs. No matter the variance in process, other athletes have been through it, and we encourage every athlete to seek advice and guidance from those that have experienced this life before.
NCAA. (2020, April 16). Estimated probability of competing in college athletics. NCAA.org - The Official Site of the NCAA. https://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/research/estimated-probability-competing-college-athletics.