Tuesday Tip: Is Your Datebook Full?

Does summer feel over yet? Well, think of today as the half-way mark of the summer period. We’re four weeks into the recruiting season – and four weeks away from students returning to campus. That’s when schools are allowed to begin hosting swimmers on official visits.

Schools have actively been inviting kids on visits and kids have rapidly been filling their datebook. Not only are there the three-H’s: homework, homecoming and the high school season. Now they have to fit in weekend trips to potentially five different schools.

How’s your date book look? Today’s Tuesday Tip was suggested by a reader – “What if I want to visit but haven’t been invited on an official visit or have been asked to make an unofficial visit- does that mean I’m not good enough? Is it appropriate for me to ask if I can visit?” Across the board coaches agreed that it was certainly appropriate to ask about making a recruiting visit. Though it can be awkward, Kansas’ Clark Campbell suggests asking, “Is it appropriate for me to ask if I can visit?” Most coaches went further, encouraging recruits and their parents to ask where they stand in the recruiting process.

“It is always appropriate for the swimmer, his or her coach, or parents to ask any questions of any member of the coaching staff,” says Tennessee’s John Trembley. He added that this resistance ask can ultimately hinder the recruiting process. “Swimmers and families tend to wait for contact from schools. The initiative sometimes is best on the part of the swimmers or their families.”

That said, maybe you haven’t filled up your datebook with official visits? Why’s that? The reasons generally fall into two categories – budgetary and selectivity.

All programs look for the athletes who will prove to be the right fit. Those athletes have first priority when it comes to lining up official visits. Explains Ohio State’s Bill Dorrenkott, “We reserve our fall visit dates for the prospects that we feel are the best fit for our school and program.” That doesn’t necessarily mean the fastest, however. “Persistence on your part shows a serious interest in our program. At the end of the day, we assess if you will be able to make us a better program and university.” He concludes with, “We will be very honest with you on where you stand in our recruiting efforts and the availability of a trip in the fall.”

Princeton’s Susan Teeter adds that no invitation could be a sign that you’re not in a coach’s top recruiting group, but encouraged to ask about visits. “If you don’t …you’ll be waiting for a while!”

When asked if no invitation meant a swimmer might not be fast enough, Stan Crump of Brigham Young came right out and said yes. That doesn’t mean that you aren’t fast enough for the team, but the coach might be “recruiting someone faster that you and waiting to hear whether she is signing or not.” Florida’s Gregg Troy agrees noting that sometimes a lack of an invite means you’re a backup candidate.

Of course, most coaches won’t turn down the services of a fast swimmer even if they’ve already signed someone faster. Sometimes it just comes down to money.

According to a recent study by The Chronicle of Higher Education, spending on recruiting has doubled or tripled at nearly half of the nation’s biggest programs. That doesn’t mean the funds are limitless, though.

As airfares and the cost of driving have increased, so too have the costs of a recruiting visit. “Even good programs are limited to what they can do on their budgets,” explains Rick Walker of Southern Illinois.

Let’s take one of our bloggers, Darcy Fishback. If Darcy makes a trip from Columbus, Ohio to the University of Georgia, airfare is likely currently $376. While on campus, Darcy will be provided with a student host who the school can provide up to $30 per day for entertainment purposes. While there, she’ll also have to eat, so let’s figure another $50 each day to cover breakfast, lunch and dinner for she and her host. Throw in some mileage to get to and from the airport and perhaps a night a hotel and the cost can be north of $500.

Now imagine three recruiting weekends, with five recruits each weekend. Think that’s rough? Imagine the situation Vic Wales.

“For us, it is about a $1,000 a visit depending on location.” explains the Hawaii head coach. But don’t put Hawaii down because you think it’d be a great place to visit, “We have to be VERY careful on who we bring out.”

While Carbondale, Illinois is no Honoloulu, Southern Illinois’ Rick Walker is equally careful in his visit invitations. Visits, he explains, can be a reflection of the messages you’re sending the coach. It’s one thing, he says, if you tell a coach, “I am interested in you and about six other schools.” It’s quite another, “If you are telling me I am one of your top three and have times that can make an impact.” Then, he concludes ”I would pay to bring you in.”

Beyond money, coaches may not have their visit dates set up just yet. Others want to make themselves available to the recruits they host and for them, small weekends are key. Denver’s Brian Schrader explains, “It is all about timing, and if programs have set aside certain weekends for visits and they limit the number of people in on a weekend to be able to host efficiently, you may have to wait until spring or see if that program will work out another time.”

Of course official visits aren’t the only type available. Unofficial visits – visits where the recruit picks up the cost – are common too. Sometimes an unofficial can lead to an official. Bob Groseth of Northwestern explains, “Sometimes a recruit can pique the interest of a coach by making an "unofficial" visit and making a strong impression.”

Unofficial visits are often used for kids who already live close to the university. Thinking again of Darcy, imagine she wants to take a visit to Ohio State. It’s an easy trip, just down the road really, and if she’s looking at several schools, spending one of her five paid visits on a trip across town might not make sense. [Editor’s note: as a part of her blog, Darcy is not divulging to CollegeSwimming.com what schools she is considering nor revealing the names of schools/coaches she interacts with, so our use of Georgia and Ohio State are hypothetical.]

Groseth encourages swimmers to only use unofficial visits on schools, “school that you would want to attend without the swimming equation involved” while Stanford’s Ted Knapp says, “If it is one of your top 5 schools, you owe it to yourself to learn as much as you can about the school, even if it is only an unofficial visit."

“Unofficial visits should not be taken as a judgment of your talent,” explains Schrader, but rather “a reason of timing.

“There is nothing wrong with taking an unofficial visit especially if you have a high interest in that school,” says Gary Kinkead, a regular panelist as a part of the CollegeSwimming.com Recruit Workshops. The University of Indianapolis coach adds, “If you have a high interest in that school’s academic programs, you can let the coach know that you will be visiting and then ask, if it would be possible for you to speak with him/her or a representative of the swimming program.”

Ted Knapp of Stanford tells the story of a school record holder. This swimmer, “Made an unofficial visit because he made five official visits to other schools.” Apparently none of them was the right fit so he booked an unofficial trip to Stanford. The result? “He loved it and thrived!!”

Gregg Troy offers a final piece of advice. When you make an invitation to visit, it’s much more than being asked out for a date. It’s an agreement. It’s a sign of your commitment and good faith in the school, “Keep the dates you agree to . . . it is a two way street.”