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Navigating the Rules of Athletic Recruitment

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If you’re an accomplished athlete in high school thinking about participating in athletics in college, chances are the recruitment process is heavy on your mind. It can be great to have the opportunity to participate in athletics at the school of your choice, and even better if you happen to get recruited by a particular school. Athletic recruitment can offer a great payoff for student athletes, but there are also a lot of rules and regulations you should understand if you plan to become involved in the recruitment process.

Before you begin the stressful process of recruitment, it is important to know your rights and understand the ins and outs of this process. Read on to learn more about the rules and regulations of recruitment, and how you can navigate them to achieve athletic and academic success.

What is athletic recruitment?

Athletic recruitment is a process by which college admission and scholarship allotment is influenced by a student’s athletic talent. It’s usually limited to students with truly exceptional athletic achievements. Colleges are sometimes willing to make a special effort and financial investment in order to secure an applicant who will likely bring success to the college in a particular sport. For more information on this, check out CV’s blog post on getting noticed by athletic recruiters.

In the present day, athletic recruitment is a formalized process governed by specific rules intended to make it fairer and more ethical. There are often restrictions on who is eligible to compete as well as restrictions on the student’s contact with a given college that may be trying to recruit them.

Who makes the rules?

It is important to understand that the rules for athletic recruitment are made by the bodies that regulate college athletics nationally (as opposed to the bodies that regulate high school athletics). The primary national organization for college athletics is the NCAA, which is split into three different divisions (Division I, Division II, and Division III) each with slightly different regulations. If there is a particular college you are interested in (or a particular college that is interested in you), you should research the division to which they belong so that you can take a look at the some of the more specific regulations that might be involved in your recruitment process. Other organizations for college athletic recruitment include the NJCAA and the NAIA. In general, the NAIA is considered to be a smaller association than the NCAA: whereas the NCAA oversees 1200 schools and 23 sports, the NAIA only encompasses 300 schools and 13 sports. In addition, NCAA requirements and restrictions are generally stricter than those of the NAIA. Though there are equally skilled players at both NAIA and NCAA schools, the level of competitiveness within the NAIA is comparable to that of an NCAA Division II school.

What are the rules?

Because the stakes of athletic recruitment can often entail admission to the nation’s top universities and/or thousands of dollars in scholarship money, there are many different rules for athletic recruitment to ensure that all parties involved act ethically.

First of all, there are restrictions on who can compete to be recruited in the first place. Though the exact statute varies from school to school, there are also restrictions on timing and form of initial contact with college coaches. Once you’ve had an initial contact with a college coach, there may be restrictions on how this coach may contact you as well as how often or how much they can contact you. To use an example, within the NCAA, coaches cannot start calling players until the summer after their junior year.

There are restrictions on what rewards and incentives a college can offer to a given student, such as scholarships. In addition, there are even restrictions on how many “official” visits a student can make to a college and to what a college might be able to offer during these visits—for example, according to NCAA rules, you can’t make an official visit to a school more than once, and you can’t make more than 5 official visits total. Students are only allowed to speak to coaches “off campus” during their senior year, and this cannot happen more than three times.

In terms of choosing a school once you’ve been noticed, there is a designated process for moving from verbal offers to formal offers before a given student can finally commit to a particular school. There are even rules for how many and what kind of athletic scholarships a school can offer, and under what conditions they can offer them.

The rules and restrictions apply to student recruits as well as college recruiters. The rules exist to make sure that the students focus on academics as well as athletics. Thus, once the student does decide to commit and matriculate, they must maintain their eligibility to earn scholarships and compete by keeping up their GPA and staying out of trouble. Be sure to do research for your individual schools to ensure you’re acting in compliance with all regulations.

You can click on the following links for a full list of regulations for the NCAA, NJCAA, and NAIA.

Why are these rules important?

These rules are important as they protect high school athletes and their families from excessively intrusive behavior on the part of college coaches. Whereas colleges might want to compete with one another to try and recruit the best athletes possible to their school’s’ team, the rules of athletic recruitment are set up in the interest of the students.

After all, high school students are more than just competitive athletes that could potentially improve the sports team of a given school–they are also relatively young students who likely have a mountain of other stressors and responsibilities, and thus it is important that everyone is treated fairly within this process. In short, the rules exist to help keep the recruitment process more fair to both the student athletes and between the various colleges involved.

In a different sense, the rules of athletic recruitment also exist to ensure the best interests of the students as students—student athletes need to be students as well as athletes. After all, even if you are recruited to a particular school for a sport, you’ll be attending classes just as much as you will be attending practice and competing in whatever your sport of choice is.


All in all, if you are an exceptional athlete who is thinking about playing sports in college, be prepared for the recruitment process. This process is highly regulated in order to keep both the college recruiters and the potential student recruit in check. You should know your rights as a student recruit as well as the rules you must follow.

Be sure to talk to your high-school coach about whether or not you are likely to be recruited, by whom you might be recruited, and how to handle the process. Athletic recruitment can be a great advantage for a skilled athlete, but it’s a highly regulated process and you need to be careful—once you’ve been recruited to a particular school, for example, it’s not ok to suddenly stop going to class or stop doing your homework. After all, you definitely don’t want any extenuating circumstances to bar you from attending and playing for a good school.

For more information about applying to college, check out these blog posts:

What to Consider When Applying to and Choosing Colleges

How to Get Noticed by College Sports Recruiters

A Brief Guide to Athletic Recruitment

A User’s Guide to the Common Application


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Devin Barricklow
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Devin Barricklow is a Political Science and Creative Writing double major at Columbia University. She’s really excited to be able to share her expertise about the college process with students who need advice. When she isn’t writing for CollegeVine, she enjoys reading the poems of Mary Oliver, going to concerts in the city, or cooking (preferably something with lots of bok choy and ginger).