The recruiting game for college sports changed after the coronavirus pandemic shut down the world March 2020.
Athletes vying for college scholarships lost the opportunity to play for scouts in the spring, thanks to the pandemic. Coaches looking to fill voids on their rosters with talented athletes had to develop other methods to cobble together new talent.
“Platforms provided in the summertime were not there and that slowed the recruiting process because coaches couldn’t get out and see them on that circuit,” said Sierra High School boys basketball coach Terry Dunn. “Us as coaches had to make sure to make games available to get those student-athletes some exposure.”
Dunn spent decades as a college basketball coach and scout at Army, Air Force, Colorado State University, Colorado and Dartmouth.
He recognizes what’s required of recruits at the next level.
Whether that’s a player’s attitude off the court or hustle between the lines, Dunn understands recruiting involves more than an athlete’s numbers.
However, COVID-19 guidelines hampered scouts’ abilities to view recruits outside of their stats.
“Coaches like to get out and get a feel for toughness and see what that looks like in a player,” Dunn said. “It’s tough to tell how great a young man or woman is on film, which is what coaches hope to see in person.”
For the 2020-2021 season, high school sports resumed in the state, but on an amended schedule. The Colorado High School Activities Association spliced the calendar into four seasons: A through D. CHSAA also developed protocols to protect athletes and coaches and help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Rules prohibited attendance by anyone other than staff, officials, players and media. Also, restrictions reduced the basketball schedule from 24 games to 14.
For Southeast teams, half of those contests occurred in Colorado Springs.
Coronavirus contact tracing also cost Sierra a game in February, further slicing into an already thin schedule.
“That’s not a lot of footage in terms of being evaluated,” Dunn said. “[Recruiting] this year had to be difficult because it’s tough to tell how great a player is strictly from film.”
Even though sports resumed, scouts couldn’t attend games for Seasons A-C. Athletes also couldn’t perform traditional offseason workouts or schedules in 2020 because of the pandemic .
While sports returned after their hiatus in March, it wasn’t the same polished product players and coaches produced in years past, which cost older athletes.
“[Athletes’] sophomore and junior summers, in my opinion, are the most important for someone who’s being recruited, especially for basketball,” Dunn said. “Most coaches at the collegiate level by that time have a great idea of who a person is. Some students during their junior year come out and they blow up, and people try to figure out where they came from.”
UCCS track and field assistant coach Dillon Schrodt agreed with Dunn’s assessment. While it’s a different avenue, Schrodt said junior year also plays a vital role in track and field.
During a typical summer, Schrodt said coaches compile lists of the top juniors’ times or marks within the region, which includes Colorado, Texas and California.
In August, coaches contact recruits for campus visits and hope to have half the signing class on campus for tours by November.
In February, prior to high school track and field, Schrodt said coaches expect to finish interviewing and touring with remaining athletes.
Since Colorado sports stopped completely in March 2020, most track and field competitors had no new times or marks for coaches to review.
“You’re relying on sophomore year information while also reviewing video (from international kids) and that made the process difficult,” Schrodt said. “... In high jump, if someone jumps 6 feet, 6 (inches) and another guy jumps 6 feet, 6 inches, the initial part of the recruiting is easy – that meets our requirement to be on the team – but we also like to review video and know more about them.
“Someone who’s long and lengthy could be better in the long run than someone who is five (foot) eight and stocky with excellent coaching because they might not have as much potential or room to grow.”
Rather than commit to a school based on outdated stats, Schrodt said recruits took another approach.
“About half the athletes we talked to wanted to wait longer to make decisions,” Schrodt said. “Most of them hoped that during their senior year they could have a break-out season.”
Back in the hoops realm, Harrison High School’s Amyah Moore-Allen hoped to parlay he senior year success into scholarships. Harrison’s star dazzled on the court for four seasons and earned various accolades in the process.
Moore-Allen averaged 21.8 points per game her junior campaign and helped lead the Panthers to the postseason in 2020.
Moore-Allen elevated her game her senior year and ballooned her scoring average to 28.2 points per game, which ranked 23rd in the nation. Moore-Allen’s 13.1 rebounds per game placed her at 82nd in the U.S.
Moore-Allen also averaged 2.8 assists, 6 steals and 2.9 blocks per contest. Despite those stats, Moore-Allen says the recruiting process remains cumbersome.
“During my junior season (2020), I started the recruiting process late because I didn’t have film access,” Moore-Allen said. “Then when COVID hit, I had an even harder time trying to pick up some offers. During my senior season, I was worried we wouldn’t have a season and that would’ve been a major setback.”
As of May 22, Moore-Allen remains undecided on her college destination.
“This recruiting process is taking longer because of the rules regarding COVID, which makes it hard to pick a school when (I) haven’t got to visit it yet,” she said. “I was very concerned that I would have to make a decision to go to a school I wasn’t sure about, which made my season a little harder because I had to put out good film every game since that was all the coaches would be seeing.”
Despite the unique terrain coaches and players continue to navigate during the pandemic, Dunn offered reassurance to Moore-Allen and others in her situation.
“If players can play, people will find you — that’s their job,” Dunn said. “With all the forms of communication and social media, there are so many vehicles for a student-athlete to get recognition.”
Schrodt echoed Dunn’s sentiments. While coaches those crucial character traits of a recruit how they did prior to the pandemic, Schrodt said a good scout won’t let talent slip through the cracks.
“I’ve noticed there’s been a huge increase in emails and questionnaires of kids trying to be on the team because those kids want to be looked at,” Schrodt said. “I’ve never really seen good athletes go unnoticed. The whole saying, ‘The cream rises to the top’ is true.”