The Battle of Recruiting During a Pandemic

Fog obscures YSU's football stadium. Coaches think of new ways to recruit during COVID-19. Photo by Jordan Boitnott

By Jordan Boitnott

Every sport has to adapt to the new reality the virus has created. Some handle the recruiting process differently than others. 

Youngstown State University baseball coach Dan Bertolini accurately summarized the consensus view, according to the other coaches.

“It is a massive, massive problem. I mean, it has dramatically affected recruiting,” he said.

Every sport struggles to make contact with new, incoming talent. Doug Phillips, YSU’s head football coach, said it’s been hard to build relationships with incoming players.

“We aren’t on the road. We have commits right now, we have recruits right now that we haven’t been able to get into their schools and they haven’t been able to get on campus so it’s just different,” he said. “The dead period extended to Jan. 1. The signing class is usually in December and February. You’re not even going to have official visits in a normal year, so it’s definitely different. We have to be very patient in making sure we know the young men that we are bringing onto our campus and school.”

Roster management is an issue as well. While Phillips said the NCAA hasn’t decided the roster numbers for football, Bertolini said managing the baseball roster could be a bit of a “headache.”

“We have all of our returning players. All seniors received an extra year of eligibility. So you have a freshman class that came in this year as well as a class that got here a year back,” he said. “So now we have two freshman classes essentially, and your seniors don’t count against you. So essentially you have no seniors now. It’s definitely backed us up a bit.”

High school players, according to Phillips, have difficulties being recognized by recruiters. 

“Without camps, that’s probably the most difficult thing for high school players. They usually use the summer to go to camps and get recognized. I think there are a lot of good football players right now who may not have that opportunity to earn a scholarship and that’s something we have to be patient with,” Phillips said. “Wait until January, February to see where kids have signed, and be able to pick up some great players.”

While Bertolini it’s a hard time for players to get their name out there, he thinks it could be a good time to recruit players from outside of the local area.

Fog obscures YSU’s football stadium. Coaches think of new ways to recruit during COVID-19. Photo by Jordan Boitnott

“Typically we recruit in western Pennsylvania and Ohio, but for us I think it’s actually a better opportunity for guys that live far away to get recruited by schools that aren’t close to them because everyone is dealing with the video situation,” he said.

Bertolini said the best way for high school athletes to showcase their talent is to make videos and highlight tapes to take advantage of the technology that is out there.

“Making tapes, YouTube links and sharing all that helps. There is a lot of recruiting services out there that will share live video if you’re playing in a tournament. That’s the best way for these kids to get exposed right now,” he said.

YSU women’s basketball coach, John Barnes, said while games aren’t going on, the team will keep an eye on things athletes do off the court.

“We look at their GPA, SAT scores, things like that. While that’s not the bottom line, it is a factor. When we sign smart players, they tend to pick up things quicker that way we don’t have to go over things again and again,” he said.

Even with the recruiting complications, ideally, YSU’s teams can continue to acquire top tier talent.