Recruiting Essentials: Official Visits
April 11, 2023
The world has changed, and it will continue to change. Twenty years ago, when I was a young assistant taking the recruiting world by storm, phone calls on September 1st, post-event contacts, and official visits could make or break your recruiting class. Official visits have changed drastically as many recruits are committing prior to the beginning of their junior year. The use and function of official visits may have altered but they are still important as recruits can continue to bridge their learning curve as they enter their freshman year.
An “official visit” is a defined term by the NCAA. An official visit refers to any visit that a prospective student-athlete takes to a college campus where the college or university pays for any aspect of the visit. On most official visits, the school will take care of most of the visit, including travel, accommodations, and food. However, there may be times where an official visit is limited but by rule it is still an official visit if any part of the visit is covered.
Per Rule 13.02.18.1 within the 2022-23 NCAA Division I Manual, the ‘official visit’ is defined as, “An official visit to a member institution by a prospective student-athlete is a visit financed in whole or in part by the member institution.”
This definition is just the tip of the iceberg. Schools must adhere to a lot of rules, many of which the recruit may never know about, or need to concern themselves with. Others have a direct effect on the recruit and his recruiting plan.
Additionally, per Rule 18.104.22.168: “... each institution is limited to seven recruiting opportunities (contacts and evaluations combined) per prospective student-athlete per year (see Bylaw 22.214.171.124). During the senior year of high school, not more than three of the seven opportunities may be off-campus contacts at any site and shall include contacts with the prospective student-athlete's family members, but shall not include contacts made during an official visit per Bylaw 13.6 or an unofficial visit, per Bylaw 13.7.5.”
Rules for Recruits
Here’s some rules recruits and their families need to pay attention to as they begin to set official visits:
+ Each recruit is allowed one official visit to any one institution.
+ A recruit is allowed a total of five official visits.
+ The two restrictions above apply to multi-sport athletes as well… so a student-athlete who’s interested in playing both football and baseball in college is still restricted to five total official visits, and only one per institution.
+ The earliest a recruit can take an official visit is the opening day of class at the beginning of his junior year in high school.
+ To be eligible for an official visit, the recruit must present the institution with a transcript and be registered with the NCAA Eligibility Center.
+ The school can provide accommodations and meals for up to four family members as well.
In looking at these requirements, the first two are pretty simple. Prospective student-athletes can visit an institution an unlimited number of times in their recruitment process, but only one of these visits, during the junior or senior year can be an official visit. If a prospective student athlete is considering a number of schools, as their junior year begins, they will only be able to take official visits to five of the schools on their list. We see this rule play out a little more in football, but there are still cases where recruits will take multiple official visits, especially with Junior College transfers.
In order to be eligible to take an official visit, a prospective student athlete has to have started their senior year, present their grades and test scores to the institution, and register with the NCAA Eligibility Center. The Eligibility Center is a centralized portal of the NCAA that handles reviewing academic eligibility and amateurism. All athletes wanting to play at the NCAA level will need to register with the Eligibility Center. Once you have registered recruits can have their transcripts and test scores sent to the Eligibility Center. It is a quick, painless process, that has a minimal fee that is required of all athletes who want to play at a NCAA school.
Rules for Schools
The NCAA rule book is extremely long and constantly being adjusted. For that matter, we will not go through every rule schools must follow concerning official visits, but we will address a couple of areas that may stand out to prospective student athletes
+ The length of an official visit cannot exceed 48 hours.
+ Schools can provide lodging and take meals as regular students normally do.
+ Entertainment, lodging, and meals should stay within 30 miles of the campus.
+ An institution may arrange special parking for prospective student athletes during official visits.
+ A student host may be given up to $75 per day of the visit (maximum of $150 for two 24-hour periods) to provide entertainment.
The NCAA spends a lot of time on meals and entertainment. This is because there were several schools stretching the word “normal.” The NCAA would like the prospective student athletes to get a feel for the real world when visiting a school. The school would like to show the recruit the best time possible.
In regards to meals and accommodations, many times the hotel that is used may be the same type of hotel a team uses on their road trips. This is a fair question to ask the coaching staff as you are learning about the program. The restaurants used during a visit, may be places the team holds some of their meals.
When a recruit is on an official visit, 48 hours is a long period of time. Most schools will build in some down time for the recruit and their family to decompress, take in all of the information they have been given and relax. Coaches will use student-host to help bridge the time as well. A student host can range from a current player, to a manager, student support group, or student support staff. Their job is to relate to the recruit in ways a coach may not be able to. Many in this role have been coached at least a little on topics to address, but for the most part their job is to show the recruit what life would be like on campus and around the program.
The New Age of Official Visits
With many more recruits committing prior to their junior year, the official visit has transformed from a final phase of recruitment into the first phase of joining the program. Once committed, schools are setting up their official visits as a chance to get future teammates on campus together. The visits basically become a celebration of the commitment and a chance to jump start the freshman year. In this scenario, the coaching staff is able to present a lot of information to their incoming class. Subjects they may cover include:
+ Summer school
+ Summer playing schedule for their current and incoming players
+ Lifting and conditioning plans for the summer prior to the freshman year
+ Housing and roommate assignments for the freshman year
+ Class schedules and other academic issues and meetings
+ Program expectations on the field, in the classroom, on and off the field
Expectations of the Player and Family on an Official Visit
Regardless of whether a prospect is committed or not, an official visit is a business trip where the recruit is being evaluated. A coaching staff is constantly evaluating their current roster as well as their future roster. A future player on campus is giving the staff more information to continue to form opinions. Creating a culture in the locker room and on the field that will live up to the standards of the program is an on-going and very daunting task for every program across the country.
A player that is committed may have, and probably should have, a good relationship with his future coaching staff. Even with a great relationship, the player should realize he is entering a business world where there is on-going competition for his spot in the lineup and on the roster. The player should be themselves, as this is the person the coaching staff recruited, but the player should understand the program is still building their file on the player.
While on the visit, a prospect may get to spend time with his future teammates. This can be a little overwhelming at times as the future meets the present and players that will be competing for playing time will be meeting for the first time. Take the time to get to know your future teammates. Ask them about their adjustment period. Ask them about some of the expectations they had for college and if those expectations were met. In the end, everyone wants to play on successful teams and those teams need good players up and down the roster. Future teammates are concerned about a recruit’s ability on the field, but they are more interested, at first, in the recruits fit into the culture of the locker room. A coaching staff has already evaluated this to some extent, so again the player should be themselves and work to learn about their future teammates.
Believe it or not…
Any coach that has been around for a few years has stories to tell. I am no different. Below are a few stories from my days as a recruiting coordinator and dealing with official visits.
During my time as a coach we brought in this player on an official visit. We were out of scholarship money so we were working to convince him to come to school as a recruited walk-on while he had other Division I offers. The visit went really well but in an effort to beat incoming weather, we took him back to the airport an hour earlier than planned. While we got him to the airport, we did not get him out of the city. The recruit was taken off a plane as the weather got bad, having never left the gate. When he called, he let us know the airline is working to reschedule him but he was stranded.
There were several issues we dealt with as a staff, but the first was making sure the player, who visited without his family, was safe and comfortable. Even though we had passed our 48-hour period, the NCAA will allow a waiver so we can assist in times of distress. We set up a hotel room, but hotel rooms in the airport area were nearly sold-out so the recruit got a suite. The snow storm stranded many and we took what was left. Cabs were few and far between and our coaching staff could not get out of our neighborhoods, much less to the airport. We called our bus company who was able to send a limo to pick up the recruit, to get him to the hotel.
By the next day, we went from 30 degrees and snow to 70 and sunny. The recruit that arrived at a five star hotel in a limo so he could sleep in his very own suite was ready to commit. As a program, we did have to report several NCAA violations, with explanations. The NCAA suspended communication with the recruit for two weeks, but the visit was a success. The teaching point to families is most programs will work, and do whatever it takes to keep recruits safe and comfortable while they are on a visit.
During one of my first years as an assistant, we pieced together an official visit weekend with three of our targets coming in together. We set the weekend up so that the final night the recruits would have some time with our players. The team was hosting an event at one of the player’s houses where they would be watching a pay-per-view MMA battle.
The next morning one of our student host called frantically trying to explain the events of the night. As the MMA fights were beginning one of the recruits had alienated many of the baseball team members. The recruit was quick to talk about himself, let everyone know who had offered him and what his player ranking was. He spoke openly about his MLB sign-ability and the fact that he planned to start from day one on campus. When he began to talk to an attractive young woman a first, second, and even a third player worked to get the recruit out of the conversation, but the recruit did not take a hint, and the players were tired of messing with him. When the young lady’s boyfriend arrived there was a minor altercation. Our staff spent the next week trying to sift through the stories from the night to figure out if there was a red flag that need to be addressed either with the recruit or the team.
The moral of the story is to enjoy the process… enjoy the visit, including the food and tours. But be aware of playing “topper” when you present yourself as a player with a better story, ranking, and tool set than every other player in the room. Every player at the college level was a good high school player. Be willing to listen to what could become future teammates as they are working to give you advice. A lot of the time, those future teammates will answer a lot of questions you didn't know existed.