Are college rosters filling up without your child? If your family waits too long to begin the recruiting process there may not be a place for your child to compete in college athletics. Here’s what you need to know about the commitment timeline and how coaches fill their college rosters.
The Commitment Timeline
When should you be worried that college rosters are filling up without you? Not all colleges and programs are finishing their rosters at the same time.
The commitment timeline varies by division. Typically, Division 1 and some Division 2 college rosters fill up the earliest. Division 3 and NAIA schools usually finish later. They’re waiting for the players who either couldn’t find a better spot or had other reasons to choose a team in a lower division. There’s definitely a trickle-down effect; generally speaking, the better the program the earlier they finish their recruiting class.
College coaches at all levels will have the player pool that they recruit from finished by December of the senior year. (As of November 2019 the Letter of Intent can be signed in November and coaches will finish their pool even earlier.) This player pool is made up of athletes that a coach has been actively recruiting. These players have either made a final decision or have narrowed down their college choice to a few schools.
College rosters are solidified by the end of February. After February, there are usually just a handful of college coaches adding players to their rosters. The search is virtually over by then.
Coaches usually know well before signing day what their incoming class will look like.
Don’t wait for National Signing Day
Let’s talk about National Signing Day for a minute. You’ve probably all seen proud players signing the National Letter of Intent on TV. I already know: most of my readers don’t have children who will appear on TV. Those are primarily football players signing on to top tier programs. However, National Signing Day is only the first day of the window of time in which Division 1 and 2 athletes sign the Letter of Intent. National Signing Day is nothing more than athletic pageantry at its finest.
Many of you do have children who will one day sign a Letter of Intent. In 2019, for the first time, the signing dates for the National Letter of Intent were moved to November (with the exception of football). Your child may sign the Letter of Intent any time between November of their senior year and August, right before they would begin college orientation. A Letter of Intent is a legally binding agreement between an athlete and an institution, valid for one year. Once that Letter of Intent is signed, a player cannot change their mind without incurring a penalty. As athletes sign the Letter of Intent those college roster spots are locked in.
Now, read this carefully! Coaches have mentally filled their roster spots long before high school athletes sign the Letter of Intent. Coaches have been speaking with these players for a long time – sometimes years. These coaches have made non-binding verbal agreements long before the player ever sees a Letter of Intent.
If you expect to wait for National Signing Day and expect a coach to call your child out of the blue with an offer, you’re delusional.
Division 3 and NAIA schools
Everything I wrote above applies only to Division 1 and 2 schools. If your child is considering a Division 3 school (and those can be excellent options) there is no signed agreement between coaches and players. The coach will extend a verbal offer, and the athlete will verbally accept. Let me repeat what I said above, many D3 coaches will wait for the trickle-down effect from higher divisions and will make their final verbal offers a little later in the year.
NAIA schools are not governed by the NCAA or the National Letter of Intent. The NAIA has loose guidelines that allow schools to create their own letters of intent or written agreements with athletes. Read about NAIA Letter of Intent here.
In every situation, coaches are making their top roster choices well before a final verbal or written agreement is concluded.
Coaches extend verbal offers to recruits
Now you know that waiting until November of your child’s senior year is too late. Roster spots are filled by then. Players are making verbal commitments to these coaches long before National Signing Day. Coaches make verbal offers to high school athletes in their player pool. When does that happen? And, I hope your asking, how do I get my child into that pool?
Here’s what college coaches are doing six to twelve months before the window opens to sign the National Letter of Intent. Coaches employ a lot of strategy to build the very best roster they can each year. Coaches all do this a little differently, but here are three broad mental categories into which coaches will group recruits:
- First, coaches have identified dream players. These are athletes the coach has been recruiting and would love to get on the roster. However, these players are usually being recruited by multiple programs. The coach may extend a verbal offer, just hoping to get lucky. If your child falls into this category, you’ll probably receive several great athletic scholarship offers.
- Next, there’s a category of solid athletes the coach believes can contribute to the program. Coaches know they have a realistic chance of getting these athletes. There will be a number of these in every recruiting class. Athletes in this category will know for sure that the coach is interested in offering them a roster spot, scholarship offers may be a little vaguer. (By the way, if your child wants to feel like a star, just drop down a division level or skill level. There’s more than one way to shine!)
- Finally, the coach will maintain a recruiting relationship with athletes that will fit in with the team. But the coach knows these athletes will jump at any offer, so the coach has a little more wiggle room to keep everything open-ended.
Coaches extend verbal offers early
The coach is constantly measuring player talent and interest in the school hoping to put together the best possible roster. So how does the coach measure your child’s talent and interest? By recruiting them! One thing all three of these categories have in common is plenty of back and forth communication between the coach and the recruit.
Verbal offers to players start going out much earlier than you think. Coaches often extend these offers in an athlete’s sophomore or junior year. These agreements are not legally binding in the way the National Letter of Intent is. For instance, if the coach leaves the school the new coach has the freedom to break these verbal commitments. However, in a coach’s mind, those roster spots are full.
By an athlete’s junior year they should be well into the recruiting process at a couple of schools.
The recruiting situation is fluid
From a coach’s side, their interest in recruits is very fluid. Your child may think a coach is barely interested in them, yet two weeks later the coach calls with an offer. What happened? Maybe one of the dream players decided to play somewhere else. Suddenly the coach would love to have your child on the team. On the other hand, a coach who has been regularly contacting your child is now quiet. The coach isn’t disinterested, but two other players committed and the roster is looking pretty good. As of today, your athlete is less important. All these changes are happening on a day to day basis – and you have no idea!
While hope is never gone, never be too cocky either.
Don’t let college rosters fill up without you
If you don’t want rosters to fill up without your child always keep your options open until you get what you want.
Your child will have the best chance by talking to multiple schools. You can even talk to schools at different levels. There are a lot of opportunities out there.
Ideally, start looking at colleges in your child’s freshman or sophomore year. Check the NCAA rules for when communication with a coach can begin in your sport. The longer you wait, the fewer opportunities will be available. Get started and keep communicating with coaches.
If your family is starting a little late, don’t be discouraged. There are still college roster spots out there. You might have to search a little harder to find them. But it can still be done.
The main point: be proactive, the earlier in high school, the better. Communication with coaches is the key. Do your research and don’t get left out in the cold.
This post was updated in February 2020