College recruitment and COVID: How COVID put high school athletes at a disadvantage

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Photo credit to Kelsey Ruff

Senior Kora Ruff proudly displays her University of Evansville shirt after committing to the school for volleyball.

Erika Holmberg, Copy Editor

As the school year has begun, senior Spartan athletes have worked towards finalizing college athletic recruitment plans. Unfortunately, the ongoing effects of COVID-19 have caused complications in this process. 

Committing to post-secondary schools has always induced incredible stress, but the new pressures of finding athletic scholarship money and seeking available spots due to the added COVID extra eligibility years have made the search process significantly more difficult. 

In a regular recruitment year, coaches would typically seek out prospective athletes, invite them for a visit and offer large amounts of scholarship money in exchange for the athletes’ talents. This year, the process became more complicated as the NCAA organization allowed for an extra year of eligibility for college athletes whose seasons were cancelled in 2020. 

Although the extra year provided comfort and stability to heartbroken college athletes, the decision hit incoming college athletes hard. Previous scholarships held by athletes in 2020 were required to be carried over, ripping money away from eventual 2021 and 2022 recruits. Additionally, fifth-year college athletes took up spots that were meant for incoming freshmen, making the recruitment process even more selective.

Senior volleyball recruit Kora Ruff faced these issues during her recruitment process. “[The extra year due to COVID affected the process] because a lot of colleges didn’t need to recruit any players in my class since they had current players staying an extra year.” Many athletes, like Ruff, had to change their college search for such reasons outside of their control, regardless of their qualifications. 

Recent football recruit senior Luke Vonderhaar experienced similar setbacks up until his commitment to the Air Force Academy. “The Covid Pandemic definitely hurt my college search. It hindered me and many other athletes from attending camps earlier that could have spurred more opportunities,” said Vonderhaar. 

These missed opportunities are just one example of how COVID put high school athletes at a disadvantage. Less exposure to high level programs left athletes searching in the dark for ways to prove their talents to schools. 

On top of finding ways to show their talent, high school athletes also ran into the problem of finding scholarship opportunities after most of what they earned went back to fifth-year college athletes. 

“There were less spots available for recruits because the scholarships would go to the fifth or sixth year guys. The extra year of eligibility limited scholarship opportunities,”  said Vonderhaar, expressing his concern. Less scholarship offers turned the recruitment process into a game of who could find the most money where, altering many prospective college athletes’ initial top choices. 

Although the altered college athletic recruitment process has caused great setbacks, it has also provided substantial rewards.

Finalizing commitment plans makes the recruitment process, as hectic as it may be, very rewarding. “Committing before football season and before my senior year has been a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. Overall, it’s going to make my senior year much less stressful!” said Vonderhaar. Ultimately, athletes just want to commit to a school and improve at their craft at a higher level. 

Despite the complications COVID caused in the recruitment process this year, Spartan athletes have navigated their way towards a successful future on and off the field.