By John Brooks, RedNumbersGolf  

Understanding the current landscape may help you find the right school.

Due to the immediate discontinuance of spring athletic seasons this past March, the NCAA opted to grant all spring sport athletes, including golfers, an extra year of eligibility if they competed during the 2019–20 athletic season. This is great news, right? It may depend on who you are and how this sudden opportunity directly affects you. For those who need a fifth year to graduate, want to add a second major to their degree, are interested in starting a graduate degree program, or have decided to defer turning professional until more opportunities are available, then yes, this is great news! But for those who are trying to find a college to play golf for or are already on a team’s roster and trying to advance and make the traveling team, this news may not be the best.

With that said, all high school golfers who aspire to play at the collegiate level need to consider how this rule will directly affect them. Will coaches have the same recruiting needs for their graduating class, or do they now need fewer recruits to join their teams? Will college rosters have more depth and experience, making it more difficult for freshmen to play in the top five and travel? Would it benefit high school prospects to graduate high school and then defer college for a year, instead taking a post-grad year? Finally, given the significant number of elite tournaments that have been cancelled and the NCAA’s current recruiting dead period (imposed through at least August 2020), will prospects have the opportunity to demonstrate their golf skills in top competition and in front of college coaches? If not, how will coaches alter their normal recruiting practices to determine which players to recruit and make offers to?

For the 2020–21 season only, NCAA Division I coaches will be able to provide ongoing scholarships to fifth year players (college seniors who opt to return to school for their extra year of eligibility), without having to count those scholarships against the team’s maximum limit (6.0 for women/4.5 for men). Beginning fall 2021, the normal limitations will apply, and each player’s scholarship will count against the team’s limit. Further, players who opt to transfer and compete during the 2020–21 season will have their scholarships counted against their new team’s limit, regardless of whether or not they are exercising their option to play a fifth year. Coaches must take all of this into consideration as they finalize their rosters for the upcoming seasons.

In cases where coaches have players who have opted to stay for a fifth year of eligibility or are considering staying one year later when the time arrives, they may be forced to amend their recruiting plans for future classes. In effect, due to the NCAA’s decision to restore a year of eligibility for all spring sport athletes who competed in 2019–20, prospective student-athletes will definitely see a reduced number of opportunities to earn scholarships and gain roster positions for at least the next several years. But how many opportunities will actually be lost? To learn more, communication with these coaches will be key. One should not assume all student-athletes will opt to play a fifth year even if they are offered a roster spot and scholarship. For those who are not on either a full or significant scholarship, a difficult financial decision will have to be made as well. Further, undergraduate academic schedules may not align, and graduate school acceptance (which requires standardized testing, applications, etc.) may not happen in time.

Also keep in mind, international travel bans resulting from the ongoing worldwide COVID–19 pandemic have created challenges for many international players and will make it difficult to return to campus for the upcoming season. This disruption could potentially open roster positions and create recruiting opportunities for prospective student-athletes.

In the final analysis, each recruit should carefully consider his or her situation and decide what pathway will best serve their academic and golf needs as they manage the college placement process. Would a post-grad year create more recruiting opportunities? Which golf teams are in need of recruits for their graduating class? Where will they have the best opportunity to compete on a school’s traveling team? And as always, make academics the top priority when considering which college to attend.

Play well!

Coach Brooks