At NCSA, we get a lot of questions like: “When can softball coaches talk to you?” Generally speaking, coaches at any division level can communicate with recruits starting Sept. 1 of the athletes’ junior year of high school. For some divisions, coaches can reach out earlier than that. To give you a more detailed look at when coaches can talk to athletes, we’ve outlined the NCAA softball recruiting rules, NAIA recruiting rules and NCAA softball recruiting calendar below.
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The NCAA established its rules to protect elite athletes from getting bombarded with coach communications. Over time, early recruiting has become more and more popular in softball—and sports in general—as coaches and athletes have found ways to establish contact well before the timeline set forth by the NCAA softball recruiting rules.
To slow down early recruiting, the NCAA released a stricter set of rules for Division 1 softball coaches in 2018. These rules prevent D1 coaches from communicating with recruits, their parents, their current coaches or any other third-party about their recruiting before September 1 of the athlete’s junior year of high school.
In the past, the easiest way for college coaches to initiate contact with young athletes was by working through their club or high school coach. The college coach could email or call an athlete’s club or high school coach to set up a phone call between the college coach and the student-athlete. The athlete could then call the college coach at the agreed upon time and the college coach can answer the phone. From there, the club or high school coach could continue to relay information for the athlete and college coach.
However, with the new recruiting rules, this practice can no longer occur at the D1 level, as all recruiting conversations are banned before September 1 of the athlete’s junior year. Technically, D2, D3 and NAIA schools can still work through a recruit’s current coach to start recruiting them early. However, D2, D3 and NAIA schools tend to start the recruiting process later than D1 schools, so the practice isn’t as common at these division levels.
While contact from coach to athlete is much more restricted by these new rules, athletes still can—and should—be proactive in the recruiting process. In fact, being proactive in the recruiting process is more important now than ever before. Come September 1, college coaches are going to be clamoring to contact of-age athletes, and prospects need to be on their list of potential recruits when this date rolls around.
The NCAA softball recruiting rules and NCAA recruiting calendar can help your family make sure that you’re on track in your recruiting. The NCAA softball recruiting rules show you the types of communication to expect from college coaches based on your year in high school. The NCAA softball recruiting calendar outlines the specific recruiting periods throughout the year, which regulate how coaches can communicate with athletes during the school year.
Again, the NCAA softball recruiting rules and NCAA softball recruiting calendar are more like guidelines, and your family should use them as a reference point in your recruiting. For example, if you’re a junior in high school and it’s a contact period, you should be hearing from college coaches. If you haven’t heard from coaches at this point, then you know you need to step up your recruiting game.
In recent years, softball recruiting had begun starting earlier and earlier, with student-athletes as young as 7th grade getting offers from college coaches. Because of this trend toward early recruiting, student-athletes were forced to make important college decisions before they are mature enough to know what they are really looking for in a school. In fact, NCAA research found that about 60% of student-athletes had no idea what academic major they will pursue at the time of their college commitment.
To combat this rise in early offers, the NCAA created new recruiting rules for all D1 sports, and softball took the rules to the next level. As of April 25, 2018, softball college coaches are not allowed to have recruiting conversations or send recruiting messages through an athlete’s club or high school coach or other third party. Furthermore, recruits are no longer allowed to arrange unofficial visits at the D1 level with a school’s athletic department until September 1 of the athlete’s junior year of high school.
Setting up all the recruiting groundwork before your junior year is now going to be more important than ever. Athletes should research schools, put together their target list, create a skills video and establish a recruiting plan with their coaches. That way, when the floodgates open September 1 of junior year and coaches can start contacting athletes, they’re on the recruiting list. These rules are simply condensing the decision-making and communications aspects of the recruiting process into an athlete’s junior and senior years of high school, making it imperative that they have all their ducks in a row when that time comes.
The D1 NCAA softball recruiting rules are the most restrictive recruiting rules, breaking down when athletes can receive specific forms of communication from coaches based on their year in high school:
September 1 of junior year
The NCAA softball recruiting rules for Division 2 schools are slightly more relaxed than those for Division 1, with most contact starting summer of the athlete’s junior year:
D3 softball colleges have the most relaxed NCAA recruiting rules of all the division levels:
The NAIA has fewer recruiting rules than the NCAA. NAIA coaches can contact student athletes anytime during high school. NAIA recruiting tends to start a little later than NCAA DI or DII recruiting, as NAIA coaches see which athletes just missed the cut to compete at a DI school. They also spend more time making sure that their school is the right fit for athletes socially, academically and athletically.
The NCAA restricts which camps and clinics college softball coaches and their staff members are allowed to work at. The rules state that coaches and their staff members can only work at events off their campus if they take place during periods where evaluations are permitted at non-scholastic practices or competitions. This is something that coaches know to comply with, so families generally don’t have to worry about it. However, when looking at attending events for exposure, keep the evaluation periods in the back of your mind, and avoid attending off-campus camps or clinics during evaluation periods where coaches can only attend scholastic practices and competitions.
Contact period: During this time, coaches can email, text, call, direct message and generally contact athletes and their parents through any NCAA-approved method.
Evaluation period: Throughout the evaluation period, coaches are allowed to watch an athlete compete in person or visit them at their school or home. However, there are some specific rules about where coaches can evaluate athletes, so pay close attention to whether coaches can evaluate athletes at school events, non-school events or both.
Quiet period: The quiet period is a time when coaches may not have face-to-face contact with recruits off the college campus, such as at the athletes’ school, or at the athlete’s games and tournaments. In other words, the coach can only talk to recruits on the coach’s campus or through any other approved electronic means of communication.
Dead period: During the dead period, coaches may not have any in-person contact with recruits or their families. Coaches can still keep in touch with recruits via phone, email, social media and other approved electronic means of communication.
The dates below indicate the recruiting dead periods for softball in the 2020–2021 school year. For any dates not listed, treat them like a contact period.