2020 has been a year like any other. The Coronavirus outbreak cancelled the 2020 college lacrosse season prematurely and has created a haziness around what the 2021 season will look like from start to finish. But beyond the play on the field, recruiting and roster management has gotten harder for coaches across the country.
The NCAA has made two major decisions that have greatly impacted programs this year and could impact them, to a certain extent, for years to come. First, they granted ALL spring sport athletes an extra year of eligibility following the spring 2020 season being cut short. Many seniors, maybe more than some expected, took advantage of this opportunity and either returned to their school or found a new home as a grad transfer for the 2021 season. This has increased the size of some rosters and made coaches have to manage scholarship numbers and slots more precisely than ever before. Secondly, the NCAA DI Council has instituted a recruiting dead period that has been extended multiple times and will now last until, at least, April 15th. That means there has been no in-person recruiting at all for this 2022 class.
While the extra year of eligibility has an impact this season and on the size of some program’s 2022 classes, the impact will likely diminish greatly after this season for most programs. It’s hard to imagine that we will see as many players come back for an extra season in 2022 as we have seen come back in 2021. But the recruiting dead period is where the real impact could could be seen over the next calendar year.
In September, which was the first month that college coaches could contact 2022 recruits, Terry Foy of Inside Lacrosse reported that there were 264 players in the 2022 class commit to DI programs, according to their database. That number is massively higher than previous cycles since the September 1st contact date was put in place.
This trend is a product of the dead period that the NCAA has put in place. No in-person recruiting inhibits coaches from properly evaluating talent. They have to go off the word of coaches they trust and film. For recruits, they aren’t able to go on official visits and really get a feel for the school and the staff. All the recruit-coach relationships are having to be made and developed over Zoom calls, FaceTime, text, and cell phone calls. That’s not exactly ideal for either party.
As a recruit or a coach, you have to rely on your gut now more than every in this process. That could very well lead to a very interesting scene down the road.
Unless the NCAA decides to extend that dead period or end it sooner, that April 15th date is one that everyone in the college lacrosse world has circled on their calendar. And what happens after that date could be very interesting.
While many recruits have been able to travel and see campuses on their own, taking that official visit or visits is crucial. The same goes for coaches as far as evaluating a recruit in-person as both a player and a person is concerned.
When that option opens up, expect anyone (players and coaches) who can to take advantage of that opportunity to do so as soon as they can.
In-person recruiting opening up again could make way for a wave of decommitments, flips, and players getting dropped from classes like we have never seen before. Will the bulk of these moves be made in April and May? Probably not. But the summer and early fall of 2021 could be very, very interesting for the 2022 class. And this could even impact the class of 2023. Could we see the timeline for many in that class pushed back a bit because of the focus that some programs may still have on the 2022 class? It’s certainly a possibility.
Another trend that we could see more of this summer is players, in particularly freshmen, entering the NCAA Transfer Portal. 2020-21 is very tough year to start your college lacrosse career. Restrictions have been in place this fall and restrictions will likely be in place for the majority of, if not the entire, spring season. How each team and individual players handle these restrictions will vary.
Just like we have seen in college football, there could very well be a situation where players, specifically freshman and players at programs that aren’t doing so hot, could be entering the transfer portal at a particularly high rate late in the season and upon the seasons end. Like usual, some will come back to the institution they are currently at and some will not. But there is no question that the difficulties and challenges that this season could bring on players will pretty significant and some players might just not be able to handle it and want to look for a fresh start elsewhere in 2021-2022.
That specific part of the transfer market will be added on top of potential fifth-year transfers looking to use their final season elsewhere, as well as the usual transfer market that we have seen over the past few seasons since the transfer portal was introduced in the fall of 2018.
Oh, and not to mention that there will likely be, at least, a small coaching carousel this summer on top of all of this movement on both the recruiting and transfer front.
All in all, this summer could be one of the craziest that we have ever seen in the sport. Buckle up.