College Recruiting: 2021 Summer FAQ

July 14, 2021

After the NCAA recruiting “dead period” ended on June 1, the USTA spoke with various college coaches about the current landscape. The following FAQ, compiled from those conversations, will help juniors, parents and coaches to answer some of the big questions in the recruiting space, including the impact of COVID-19.


For more resources and NCAA links to stay up-to-date on the recruiting landscape, visit our college tennis homepage.


Q: How are college rosters currently impacted now that the 2020-21 season is in the rear-view mirror?


A: Rosters are being impacted due to the extra year of eligibility that college student-athletes received. Typically, coaches know how many roster spots they will have in the upcoming seasons, but that has become a moving target as players decide on their future. Meanwhile, college programs are now going back to their original scholarship limits, and many schools (such as those in the Ivy League and at the Division III level) did not compete in the spring of 2021, so many of those players will have two extra years of eligibility. Since those student-athletes have lost playing time, their development has been affected as well.


These are just some of the factors that are causing open roster spots to be very fluid and reactionary. Until a student-athlete is signed or arrives on campus, it is hard to know if anything is a sure thing.


However, there are roster spots that go unfilled every year, so the current situation may cause more parity at each level as recruits open up their options to more schools.

Q: How are coaches handling future players who are looking for a fifth year of eligibility?


A: This can be a complex issue. A fifth-year of eligibility has added a new dimension to tennis recruiting, and it is very specific to each student-athlete’s situation. The main issue, beyond determining what makes sense for both the student-athlete and the program, is whether that’s something both sides mutually want to pursue, and if it makes sense in the long term. There are a lot of student-athletes starting graduate programs, and schools are asking whether degree completion for those student-athletes means paying for them to complete a sixth year if that graduate program takes two years. Schools that have accelerated or one-year grad programs have a huge advantage.


Q: What are the effects of the Transfer Portal?


A: The Transfer Portal is having a massive impact on rosters. As of mid-June, there were almost 500 student-athletes in the women’s tennis transfer portal alone. Many are looking to see if they can use their extra year, while some have seen their progression in the lineup blocked by returning older players. Players are even looking for spots two years in advance, trying to get ahead of future recruiting classes. Ultimately, not everyone in the transfer portal is going to find a new school to play for, and they may have given up their roster spot from their previous school if they wanted to return. The recruiting timeline for transfers is also markedly shorter than for incoming freshmen, which can provide a greater degree of certainty and confidence for coaches. It is becoming a balancing act of what is going to be right for each program.


When the dust settles, rosters will look very different at many colleges this fall. One thing that has become clear is that the Transfer Portal is here to stay. It has made the process of transferring more transparent and possibly more comfortable for student-athletes.


The NCAA did relax the six-month gap for players planning to enter in the fall of 2021, so it opens the door for them to take a gap.


Q: How do current recruiting and roster levels impact American tennis players?


A: The roster capacity due to the current issues can certainly have an impact on American tennis players, though it may be broadly felt among all players. With the recruitment of American players generally starting earlier than for international players, there’s a good chance that American juniors can get ahead of the game. The U.S. has a lot of great recruits and they are much more familiar with the culture of college tennis. American players are also armed with greater information on the U.S. college system at an early age.


There is great coaching, along with strong academics and positive college experiences, at DI mid-majors and the DII, DIII and NAIA levels. More players need to have an open mind. There’s a place for everyone—sometimes it might not be obvious or seem necessarily perfect, but it’s what players do with it that matters.

Q: What are the rules and restrictions surrounding college student-athletes now being able to benefit off of their Name, Image and Likeness (NIL)?


A: From the NCAA’s announcement on June 30: “Individuals can engage in NIL activities that are consistent with the law of the state where the school is located. College athletes who attend a school in a state without an NIL law can engage in this type of activity without violating NCAA rules related to name, image and likeness. Individuals can use a professional services provider for NIL activities.”


It is recommended to consult with college coaches and compliance offices with additional questions on how each individual school is addressing NIL.


As it relates to current high school students, this is from the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) on July 7: “While it is not our position to debate the merits of current college athletes earning money from their NIL, it should be understood that these changes do not affect current high school student-athletes. Current high school student-athletes CANNOT earn money as a result of their connection to their high school team.”

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