In the wake of the Rutgers men’s basketball scandal and allegations facing the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay’s head basketball coach, prospective student-athletes may wonder how they can be assured that the college coach they choose to play for will treat them with respect. Given the limited amount of time a recruit can spend with coaches due to the NCAA bylaws, getting to fully know a coach and how he treats his or her student-athletes is nearly impossible prior to committing to a program. Yet, there are some measures a prospective student-athlete and their parents can take to gain a better idea of how a coach may treat his or her players on a daily basis.
As they currently exist, the NCAA bylaws allow recruits a limited time to have in-person contact with coaches. With respect to off-campus recruiting, prospective student-athletes cannot be contacted before July 1 following the completion of their junior year in high school. Exceptions exist for women’s ice hockey recruits (who cannot be contacted until July 7 after their junior year in high school), women’s gymnastics recruits (who cannot be contacted until July 15 after their junior year in high school) and men’s basketball recruits (who cannot be contacted before the first day of their junior year in high school).
On top of limiting the timeframe during which coaches, other members of the athletics department and institutions can contact student-athletes for recruiting purposes, the NCAA also limits the total number of contacts that may occur. For sports other than football and basketball, seven recruiting opportunities may take place during the year for each recruit and school who is recruiting him. During the prospective student-athlete’s senior year, only three of the contacts may be off-campus. Counted amongst the three in-person contacts with the student-athletes are contacts with his or her relatives and legal guardians. The number of contacts is reduced for football to six. Institutions receive seven recruiting opportunities during the academic year for basketball recruits.
Given these limitations, it is important that recruits use the limited amount of face-to-face time that they have with a program’s recruiters to judge their character. Student-athletes and their parents should ask tough questions about coaching theories, discipline methods used against student-athletes and whether the coach or any members of their staff have been disciplined or sanctioned by the school for their coaching practices. The NCAA’s proposals to allow unlimited text messages and phone calls may allow student-athletes and their parents to better gauge the character traits of coaches. Additionally, the proposal would also give student-athlete a greater amount of time to ask each coach specific questions regarding coaching methodology and player discipline practices.
In addition to asking hard-hitting questions during in-person contacts with members of the coaching staff, recruits should also seek out the opinions of current and former student-athletes about coaches’ behaviors. During on-campus visits, student-athletes should ask specific questions about how coaches react under various situations. For instance, how does a coach respond when the team loses an important game? What priority does the coach place on academics and student-athletes taking coursework of interest to them? How does the coach motivate student-athletes who may be perceived as slacking during practice?
Notably, the NCAA doesn’t limit the amount of contact a potential student-athlete can have with current team members, so long as the contact is not for recruiting purposes. Thus, it is plausible that even outside of on-campus visits, that a student-athlete could direct questions about coaches to current student-athletes. Current student-athletes may be better suited to field questions about a coach’s behavior then the coach himself, as they are likely to respond most honestly. Therefore, it would be well worth a recruit’s time to engage in this type of conversation with current student-athletes to gain the most complete idea possible of the type of coach he or she is being recruited to play for.
Outside of direct contact with coaches and student-athletes, there are other ways that recruits and their parents can glean information about a coach’s personality and behaviors. The digital age presents unlimited opportunities to find information about someone. Simple Google searches for the coach and his or her staff’s names may provide some insight. Additionally, following the Twitter accounts of current team members may also provide some information about the program. For instance, it may be worthwhile after a tough loss suffered by the team to check players’ Twitter accounts over the following days. Many players have been known to publicly air their grievances about programs. Any social media comments out of the ordinary may provide cause for concern, or at a minimum, a question that a recruit should follow up with a coach about.
Overall, it is critical that recruits and their parents have the greatest sense possible of the values, coaching methodology and discipline practices of a coach the recruit will be playing for. Taking time to educate one’s self on this issues to the fullest extent is the best method by which to prevent playing for an impossible coach.