When spring sports were abruptly canceled across the nation in March, many student-athletes, both seniors looking to get last-minute offers and rising juniors, were left scratching their heads over what comes next.
Navigating a course to play sports beyond high school can be a daunting task in the best of times. The effort is filled with campus visits, pleas to coaches and a never-ending checklist of requirements and communication rules. Adding a pandemic to the mix makes the effort much more difficult.
In mid-July, the California Interscholastic Federation pushed fall and spring championship dates into the future. The current situation predominantly affects current high school juniors and seniors, those set to graduate in 2021 and 2022.
Those student-athletes, like others before them, may look to people like Scott Schuhmann, a longtime Half Moon Bay resident who since 2015 has volunteered to guide Half Moon Bay High School students looking to play in college. Getting good test scores, finding appropriate scholarships and knowing when and how to contact the right programs all come into play, according to Schuhmann, who was an assistant coach and associate athletic director at Stanford University for more than 20 years.
Schuhmann suggested that online tools will have a much bigger part for both athletes and coaches this year. Social media updates, skill videos, highlight reels and in-person camps are important resources for recruiters looking to understand prospects. But perhaps more important than any video is communication, according to Schuhmann.
“You have to continue the communication, because the coach may not have answers for you today, but they’re going to start having answers for you soon,” he said. “So, continuing to show who you are as a student and an athlete and that you have an interest in their school puts you in a better position to market yourself.”
On the first Wednesday of February, many high school athletes sign their National Letter of Intent, a written commitment created by the Collegiate Commissioners Association to ensure neither athlete nor university opted out of the agreement. According to Next College Student Athlete, a recruiting profile website that assists students and coaches, signing periods were adjusted this year due to scheduling changes from governing bodies.
For example, basketball prospects looking to sign with Division I schools had until Aug. 1. They were originally scheduled to sign between April 15 and May 20. Football players for Division I and II schools began on Feb. 3 and ended on Aug. 1. These signing periods may be subject to change next year.
“It’s definitely a tough situation, especially for this year’s seniors,” said John Parsons, the Cougars’ boys varsity basketball head coach. “Because the majority of the viewing and active recruiting period
typically is done in the spring and summer. Of course, they’ve missed both of those windows. So I think it will drastically change this year.”
Changes made in the National Collegiate Athletic Association right now are affecting the high school class of 2021. On Aug. 21, the NCAA announced it would grant an extra year of eligibility for all fall sports athletes, regardless of whether they play in the coming months. Among other issues, this could lead to complications for recruiting, depending on how programs distribute scholarships. Depending on the sport and school size, programs may either look to keep older players another season or continue the cycle of bringing in underclassmen.
Another factor in this new landscape is where sports can be played at all. With football, coaches may look at states playing this fall, such as Texas, Nebraska and Montana. In the Central Coast Section, football practice isn’t scheduled to start until Dec. 14, and the playoff championship won’t be until April 10.
“Recruiting is about exposure and getting the opportunity for people to see you and see you play,” Schuhmann said. “If it’s on video, that’s OK, but in person is even better.”
Parsons expects his athletes to be more proactive than usual while reaching out to schools.
“I’ve heard from a few coaches (that) it’s going to be much different on their end as well,” Parsons said. “Because they're not going to be able to see (high school players), so they might be relying more on coaches and old film. So, it’s a unique experience for both sides.”
Some sports may be off the table completely. Even well-funded D-I schools such as Stanford, Iowa and
Nebraska have lost revenue and cut some sports to save money.
The bottom line for current high school juniors and seniors looking to continue their athletic careers is that there are a lot of factors to consider. Students, parents and coaches will have to pay close attention to updates and make more use of screen time than in previous years.
“A lot of student-athletes at Half Moon Bay are looking for that opportunity to go on and play their sport in college,” Schuhmann said. “And because of where we are right now, it’s difficult to navigate that because you don’t know exactly where those opportunities are yet.”