April 18, 2002

Now What? A Look at Athletics in the Offseason

Print More

Cornell’s recruiting process, while varying across different sports, has one thing in common: it is not limited to the offseason. It may be easier for coaches to commit time to recruiting during the offseasons, but in order to recruit the highest caliber athletes, a coach must work year round to bring in new talent.

“You never stop [recruiting], you’re always looking out for new kids, you’re always writing letters, trying to find out whether they’re good students or not,” commented wrestling head coach Rob Koll.

With the majority of the 2002-2003 recruits already locked in to Cornell, coaches must focus on recruiting the next class. This is done through written contact and unofficial visits during a prospect’s junior year in high school. Unofficial visits are not paid for by Cornell, and a prospect may make several of them to campus before his or her senior year. Official visits occur during the fall of senior year and are paid for by Cornell.

The means by which coaches recruit players differ according to the sport. Jamie Russell, assistant coach of the men’s hockey team, scours the junior hockey leagues across the U.S. and Canada for prospective players.

“High school recruits are rare. We haven’t had a lot of success with prep school kids. It’s a big jump for them. When a kid comes from junior hockey, they are able to make a better transition [to the college game],” said Russell.

With high school athletes comprising the bulk of the recruiting classes of the other sports, coaches must find ways to locate the best players.

“People write to us from everywhere [expressing interest in the program],” commented women’s soccer head coach Berhane Andeberhan. “There are tournaments with the best teams from all over the country, so we’ll go to them if we have leads [on recruits].”

Sometimes, the best recruits can come from the most unlikely places. Freshman All-American wrestler Travis Lee is from Hawaii, a state not particularly known for its wrestling. After Lee expressed an interest in Cornell wrestling, Koll asked him to send a video.

“[Lee] sent me a tape, I watched it, put it away. I was a little bit impressed. On a whim, I decided to watch it again. By the end of the video, I was like ‘Oh my goodness, this kid has something special,'” recalled Koll. “His intensity level was something you could see on tape. Technique aside, I knew he was a winner.”

Unofficial visits can expose prospective recruits to the atmosphere and excitement of Cornell sports that they can’t get through phone and written contact. With the women’s lacrosse team making a run for the Ivy League title, head coach Jenny Graap ’86 is having many of her 2003 recruits come to the East Hill this weekend.

“Our ‘Junior Day’ will take place this Saturday in conjunction with our Yale game,” explained Graap. “They see our team play and get a chance to meet administrators and coaches as well as support staff. We answer questions and try to give them a feel for what our program is all about.”

Typically, teams try to get their recruits to apply early so as to lock up the recruiting class before the spring decisions. Also, since the acceptance rate is higher for early decision applicants, coaches can secure more of their prospects.

“You have to get the application going because the earlier you get your application in to Cornell, the better chance you’ll have of getting accepted,” said Koll. “We try to get as many kids to go early decision as possible. We try to get our whole class to go early, but realistically that never happens, so we then continue recruiting these kids in the late fall and winter.”

The men’s hockey team benefits from its ability to recruit players that are no longer in high school. Since the majority of the recruits are from junior hockey leagues, the team can sign recruits to play two seasons from now. With the 2002 recruits already committed, Russell already has two more players committed for the 2003 season.

“We work ahead of the curve,” commented Russell. “Most Ivy League schools have their recruiting done by January, whereas the schools that offer athletic scholarships take players in as late as the summer.”

A major obstacle for Cornell in getting the best recruits is the fact that it is in the Ivy League, which prohibits the university from giving athletic scholarships. Thus, recruits can be lured to other schools promising free rides. Despite this disadvantage, Cornell is still able to bring in stellar athletes because of its academics. Coaches make sure to imprint on their prospects that Cornell is a superb academic institute that offers high quality athletics.

“When going up against a DI school which offers athletic scholarships, I emphasize the value of an Ivy League education. I talk about the investment they would be making in their future,” said Graap. “Scholarships have their downsides too, and having coached for seven years in the DI lacrosse world where scholarships dominated, I can point out the negatives of accepting money to play a sport. Philosophically, I believe money corrupts, and thus, it’s easy for me to sell the benefits of a non-scholarship athletic experience.”

Competing against schools that give scholarships for recruits can be tough, but competing with top-tier schools that do not give scholarships can be equally as challenging. In this case, the coach must be able to stress the value of a Cornell education.

“Lots of soccer players are excellent students. They come from families who value education,” noted Andeberhan. “We will lose players to schools who can offer scholarships, but [our main competition] for recruits is with good schools who don’t offer scholarships.”

Having a successful season also helps bring in the top prospects. The men’s hockey team, ranked ninth in the country, received an incredible amount of press during its run to the NCAA quarterfinals. Because of the team’s successful season, the program is now being recognized as one of the top teams in the nation, and should undoubtedly attract new talent. Combine that with a first-rate education, and that makes Cornell even easier to sell.

“Players are attracted to Cornell because we can combine an Ivy League education with a great hockey program. Our players come out of Cornell with an Ivy League degree in their pocket. After their hockey career is over, they’re set for life,” commented Russell. “Lynah is a big selling point. There are better and newer facilities elsewhere in the country, but the crowd here is one of a kind.”

Recruiting players is a year-round effort. Being able to find new talent during the offseason is especially important, as it should be the main focus of the coaching staff’s energy. The effort expended by coaches on recruiting is the reason Cornell is able to maintain a strong athletic program.

Archived article by Jonathan Auerbach