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In college athletics, recruiting is the term used for the process whereby college coaches add new players to their roster of student-athletes each off-season. In most instances, it involves a coach extending an athletic scholarship offer to a player who is about to graduate from high school or a junior college. There are instances—mostly at lower-division universities—where no scholarship can be awarded and the player has to pay for all of his or her own tuition, housing, and book fees.

Since success or failure in recruiting is seen as a precursor of a team's future prospects, many college sports fans follow it as closely as the team's actual games and it also provides a way to be connected to the team during the off season. Fans' desire for information has spawned a million-dollar industry which first developed extensively during the 1980s. Prior to the internet, popular recruiting services used newsletters and pay telephone numbers to disseminate information. Since the mid-1990s, many online recruiting websites have offered fans player profiles, scouting videos, player photos, statistics, interviews, and other information, including rankings of both a player and a team's recruiting class. Most of these websites charge for their information.

College football

In the United Statesmarker, the most widely-followed recruiting cycle is that of college football. This is due mainly in part to the large following football usually has at most Division I universities, especially those in the top-level Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). Division I FBS football also has the highest number of scholarship players (85) of any college sport. The NCAA allows football teams to add up to 25 new scholarship players to the roster per academic year, so long as the total number of scholarship players does not exceed 85.

For teams in the second-tier Division I FCS, scholarships are limited to an amount equal to 63 full scholarships. However, FCS schools are allowed to award partial scholarships, as long as the total number of "counters" (NCAA terminology for a person who counts against limits on players receiving financial aid for that sport) is no greater than 85. Also, FCS teams can add up to 30 new players per year.

In Division II, schools are limited to 36 scholarships.

The football recruiting season typically begins the summer after the previous year's class has signed—though the building of relationships between college coaches and high school players and their coaches may have been going on for months or years before that. Each summer high school players attend various football camps at nearby college campuses to be evaluated on measures of athleticism like the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, agility shuttle and the number of repetitions of the bench press that an athlete can perform at a given weight, usually 185 pounds. Recently, the SPARQ rating has become a popular composite metric of a high school football player's athleticism. At this time of year, based on game film and performance at combines, this is typically when players begin to receive most scholarship offers.

After receiving an offer, a player may choose to commit. This is a non-binding, oral agreement.Although more coaches have tried in recent years to get players to commit early, typically the most highly rated players commit within a month of National Signing Day, the day all high school players who will graduate that year can sign letters of intent to play for their college of choice. Signing Day always falls on the first Wednesday in February. Other players, who may not have as many offers to chose from, more often verbally commit earlier in the process. Players occasionally decide to sign with a different school from which they gave a verbal commitment, which often causes rancor between the fans and coaching staffs of the two schools. Junior college players, however, can sign scholarships in late December, once their sophomore seasons have ended.

A letter of intent is binding for both the player and school for one academic year as long as the player is eligible to enroll at the college.

College basketball

Recruiting for Division I basketball teams is also closely followed by fans. Schools are limited to having 13 scholarship players in men's basketball and 15 in women's basketball. The formal NCAA rules and processes for recruiting and signing recruits are similar, but the identification and recruiting of talent differs from football in important ways. Whereas football players can only play in a very limited number of competitive games per year, summer camps and traveling AAU teams afford prospects the opportunity to play outside of the regular basketball season. As a result, while football players generally only come to the attention of college recruiters after excelling at the high school varsity level, top level basketball players may emerge as early as the 8th or 9th grade. Players may also consider their AAU team as their primary squad, which can make high school basketball coaches less influential in the recruiting process than high school football coaches.

Another key difference in the recruiting cycle for college basketball, as opposed to that of football, is the time of signing:
  • First, basketball, along with most other NCAA sports other than football, has two signing periods during which all athletes are allowed to sign letters of intent—one in the fall (autumn) and one in the spring. The early signing period starts on the second Wednesday in November and runs through the third Wednesday in November. (Although football has an early signing period in December and January, its use is restricted to junior-college transfers.)
  • The regular signing period in basketball does not start until the third Wednesday in April, after high schools throughout the U.S. have completed their basketball seasons.


Terminology

  • Blue chip - The term for someone that is among the top players (overall or at their position) coming out of high school.
  • Yellow chip - The term used for athletes who are good enough to make a college team, but aren't blue chips.
  • Early enrollment - The player will graduate from high school early and enroll at the college for the spring semester. This is encouraged to get the player ready for playing time that upcoming season.
  • Grayshirt - The player will either be unable or chooses not to enroll in time for the fall semester and will instead enroll in the following semester or year. This may also refer to high school seniors who graduate after their fall semester and enroll in college for the spring semester. If voluntary, the reason is usually because the college has signed more players for that season than permissible under NCAA rules. The recruit can then count against the previous year's allocation. Compare: redshirt.
  • Silent commitment - A player has committed to play for a school but has not publicly disclosed this yet.
  • Project/Sleeper/Under the Radar- Terms that refer to a recruit who is not as highly ranked as a school's typical recruits. Often, these are players who may be athletically gifted but who may have begun playing the sport recently, but the coaches believe they may develop into contributing players with more experience. The term can also refer to a recruit who is playing "out of position" in high school—that is, playing at a position for which he may not best be suited in the long term. Sometimes, a player may be limited by his high school system, such as a quarterback with potential as a passer who is playing at a school with a ground-oriented offense. Such a player may also have been hampered by injuries during high school. Schools often recruit such players if they have scholarships left over at the end of a recruiting period.
  • Athlete - This term mostly applies to American football recruiting. This is typically a player whose physical profile does not fit one specific position, but indicates the potential to succeed at multiple positions. Athletes who may play at multiple line positions are called jumbo athletes. Coaches must find a position to maximize the player's talents.
  • Recruited Walk-On - A player that is enrolling at the college but does not have a scholarship offer. Coaches may invite them to join the team to help on the practice squad or special teams (in football). If a player works their way up into the regular playing rotation, they may be awarded a scholarship. In football, place kickers, punters, and long snappers frequently join teams as recruited walk-ons. Coaches may also award a scholarship during the last year of eligibility to a walk-on who has been with the team for several seasons and if the team has scholarships available. While most walk-ons, particularly in football, are recruited, others may approach the coaches without invitation about joining the team. In rare cases where a team may have a shortage of scholarship players due to some having left school unexpectedly, coaches may hold open try-outs to find players among the student body.
  • Star Ratings - Most recruiting services classify recruits by a number of "stars" with a higher number for more highly ranked prospects. Most services use 5 stars for the highest ranked recruits and only a few players at each position attain this rank. 4 stars is a typical ranking for recruits at elite level universities. 3 stars is a typical ranking for recruits at most schools in conferences with automatic bids to the BCS. 2 stars is a typical ranking for recruits at most mid-major level or Division I FCS schools. 1 star players typically play at levels below NCAA Division I or may be walk-ons at Division I schools.


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