Recruiting at the "Ivy's"
Yale Daily News
Behind the scenes:
The real story of athletic recruiting at Yale
It is probably one of the most overlooked processes by non-athletes, yet it is one of the most important in the athletic program. It takes longer to complete than the actual season, and it requires the cooperation of administrators,
coaches, players and parents. It is not practice, lifting, or community service.
It is recruitment.
Starting the Process
Coaches start compiling information about future athletes even before they mail the first brochure.
"I receive a list of every nationally ranked player in the country from the United States Tennis Association -- USTA -- and they give me a list of names and addresses," men's tennis coach Alex Dorato said.
The same thing happens for Frank Keefe, the men's and women's swimming coach. "We can pull up every high school state championship, the junior
national championship and the world rankings [statistics] off the Internet," Keefe said.
Once they have compiled a list of potential students, coaches will start distributing information to them during their junior years of high school.
"I send out a letter and team media guide so they learn about the team program, "Dorato said. "I send out a letter about New Haven, painting a nice rosy picture. I send out a letter about residential colleges. I'll keep them updated as the season goes along."
While NCAA regulations prohibit collegiate athletic programs from contacting an athlete by telephone, in-person, or by off-campus visits prior to July 1 before the recruit's senior year, coaches are allowed to mail information about the school and the team before that date.
"I send out a questionnaire to kids, and a fact sheet," Dorato said. "If they send it back to me, that's how it starts."
However, sometimes the prospects initiate contact before the coaches have a chance to make their mailings.
"I contacted them during my junior year of high school," David Finney '03, of the men's lacrosse team, said. "I talked to the assistant coach, and they told me that the best thing to do was go to the summer camp that they ran so they could get a look at me."
These students' names are added to a larger list of names, and are then contacted with the rest of the prospects during junior year.
"For those who have written to me, I write to them starting in their junior year, after classes start," Dorato said.
Coaches will start making telephone calls to potential student-athletes on July 1. These calls are designed to initiate formal contact and let the candidates know that Yale is interested in them.
The phone calls also allow the coaches to form more personal relationships with the recruits, which is fundamental to the recruiting process.
"Yale makes the effort [to recruit people]," Noah Glass '03, of the men's lacrosse team, said. "[The coach] writes the handwritten letter, makes you know you are wanted. Part of recruiting is the feeling that you are wanted."
While coaches may make hundreds of phone calls during that first week in July, they have already begun concentrating on what their program needs the most.
According to men's hockey coach Tim Taylor, recruits must meet three criteria.
"[First], are they good enough athletically to help us as a hockey program," Taylor said. "[Second], are they academically suitable to be strong candidates at Yale. [Third], do they have interest in attending Yale University?"
Once the phone calls have been made and the top recruits have been identified, prospects are invited to visit the campus during the fall of their senior year for an official visit.
Recruits are permitted five official visits, but may only make one official visit to any given institution. So a high school basketball player may make one official visit to Yale, but may also make an official visit to four other universities.
During the recruit's official visit to Yale, the University pays for everything. Yale may pay for the transportation to and from the campus, three meals per day, and even admission to one athletic event.
Yale is also allowed to give the student host -- the Yale student who houses the recruit -- up to $30 per day, which is used for entertaining the recruit.
Recruits stay with students from their specific team, and follow them around campus, getting a feel for what it is like to be a Yale student-athlete.
"Our job is to show them what real life's like here," field hockey player Anne Rippetoe '01 said. "Obviously we want to show them some of the fun stuff, but a lot of our efforts are to let them know what the coach is like, to let them know what they're getting into."
Recruits may meet with coaches, captains and even Yale administrators such as President Richard Levin and Athletic Director Tom Beckett when they visit here.
"When we bring them on campus we try to spend as much time with them as possible," men's basketball coach James Jones said. "We want to get to know them. If I'm going to bring them into my family, I want to make sure they succeed and make sure they want to be here."
Sometimes a recruit may decide that she needs another visit to Yale to determine whether she wants to come here. In that case, Yale pays for nothing. She is responsible for her own transportation, lodging, meals and entertainment. However, she may meet with coaches and players, and may dine with other recruits who are on their official visits. But she must pay for herself.
After the recruits have seen the campus and get a feel for what Yale life is like, the next trick is getting them enrolled.
"One of the things Yale holds near and dear to its heart is the tradition athletics holds in its history," Richard Shaw, dean of undergraduate admissions, said.
With that in mind, the Office of Admissions tries to be as accommodating as possible for Yale's 33 varsity teams.
Coaches will compile a list of their top priorities in recruiting so that the admissions
department knows what each team needs. Admissions assigns each team its own liaison, who is responsible for meeting with the coaches and reviewing the priorities lists. Obviously, these lists differ from sport to sport. If the football team may need a new quarterback in their recruiting class, they may put five quarterbacks at the top of their list. On the other hand, the tennis team does not have specific positions,
Coach Dorato may just prioritize according to pure skill.
Nonetheless, once the lists have been made and reviewed, coaches meet with their liaisons and discuss their teams' needs.
"I'll make an appointment with my liaison and I'll bring 10 to 15 transcripts of my top recruits," Dorato said. "My liaison will tell me who's in the ballpark and who's not."
Sometimes the liaison reviews the profile and informs the coach that that candidate might not be admitted.
"When we find out that we have kids in that gray area between admissible or not, we certainly try to give the admissions office as accurate a profile on them as we can," Taylor said. "We have an academic index that we have to abide by ...
with pretty strict guidelines that influence how we do our recruiting."
If recruits are determined to be unacceptable according to Yale academic standards, they are crossed off the list and the process starts again with another candidate.
But in the end, the admissions department tries to be as accommodating as they can be.
"There are going to be some students they identify as top picks and we understand that," Shaw said. "If you're successful at [athletics] then that's something that is an important characteristic for us to look at, especially in terms of success in the classroom."
But ensuring that the recruits are academically sound is only one aspect of the pressure in the admissions office. Sometimes, there is also time pressure.
Yale does not offer athletic scholarships, as its financial aid is based on need. This means that Yale does not need to know which athletes are going to matriculate until the regular deadline in May.
However, scholarship schools like Duke and Stanford need to know earlier than that. There are two notification deadlines, one in November and another in February, for student-athletes to inform universities whether they plan on accepting scholarships or not.
So a student who has been offered an athletic scholarship to Duke University must inform Duke by sometime in February whether he plans on attending Duke. But if he also applied for financial aid at Yale, he needs to know before May whether he has been granted a good package.
So, to accommodate students in these situations, Yale issues likely letters. A likely letter would inform that a student-athlete is either likely or unlikely to be accepted to Yale. The likely letter would also include the student's probable
financial aid package.
There are also deadlines at scholarship schools for students who have not applied for financial aid and who are not being offered scholarships. In these instances, Yale will issue a likely letter to inform them of their options.
Likely letters allow student athletes to make informed decisions about where to go to school, without forcing them to void an athletic scholarship or a chance to attend Yale.
Changes in the Process
While the likely letter seems like a basic concept in admissions, it did not exist at Yale before 1994. The University just informed student athletes after these deadlines, like every other student, and did not account for the time pressures placed on student-athlete applicants by other programs.
"It created a real hardship for Yale to try and compete with other Ivy schools because we were not issuing likely letters," Beckett said. "It is tough to go and compete when you don't have a level playing field."
President Levin recognized that the lack of communication was a problem and decided something had to be done.
"In the course of searching for an athletic director [in 1994], it became clear that one of the reasons we were having trouble recruiting was because of a lack of communication between admissions, financial aid and the athletic department," Levin said.
So when Beckett arrived in 1994, he opened the lines of communication between the athletics and admissions.
"I view my role in this process as part of the team of the Yale community that endeavors to let recruits and their families know what to expect from Yale University," Beckett said. "What we are trying to do here is identify all or as many of the issues that young people and their families are looking for as they investigate different options, and we try to get the Yale community behind this effort. We try to incorporate as many people as we can and give them as much exposure to the campus as possible ... now there is communication and it makes it easier."
Beckett's changes have made quite an impact on the Yale athletic recruiting process, and the athletic program as a whole.
Since the advent of likely letters at Yale, the football team has gone from a 5-5 record in 1994 to a 9-1 record in 1999, and a share of the Ivy title.
While likely letters do not deserve all the credit for this improvement, Beckett thinks that they were certainly a factor.
"My arrival at Yale helped Yale to unite in its effort to bring athletic activities to the forefront and establish policies and procedures that would allow varsity athletic teams to have a competitive scene or not."
In the next installment: an examination of the differences between recruiting for a team sport versus individual sports.