Many high school rowers are interested in continuing their rowing careers in college. There are many factors to consider when choosing a college, and the rowing program is just one of those factors. In the process of researching college rowing programs, high school students should be aware of recruiting rules and initial academic eligibility requirements that apply to them. These rules and requirements are numerous and can be quite complicated. This article is a joint effort between the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association and the United States Rowing Association and covers the basics of college recruiting for rowers. It is impossible to cover every rule and every exception to, or special application of, the rules in this introductory article. If you are unsure of any rule, please consult your coach. If he or she does not know the answer, they can utilize the CRCA and USRowing to find the correct guidance.
There are different categories of rowing programs and the recruiting and eligibility rules can vary amongst the different types of programs. There are approximately 140 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) varsity status women’s rowing programs. These are women’s rowing teams sponsored by the intercollegiate athletics departments at NCAA member institutions. These programs are further divided into NCAA Division I, Division II and Division III programs. A listing of schools that sponsor women’s rowing, separated by division, is available at www.ncaa.org. Most of the recruiting and initial eligibility information in this article relates to NCAA rules. There are varsity status men’s rowing teams as well. However, because the NCAA does not sponsor men’s rowing as a championship sport, NCAA rules have not been written specifically for men’s rowing. Nevertheless, most varsity status men’s programs follow most of the NCAA rules for their recruits. A club sport team, whether it is for women or for men, does not have to follow NCAA rules because it is not a varsity intercollegiate team.
Once a student starts classes for the ninth grade, he ore she is a prospective student-athlete (prospect) and NCAA rules regarding recruiting apply to them. It is important to note that the prospect’s relatives or legal guardians are treated the same under NCAA recruiting rules as the prospect himself. Thus, for example, if a college coach cannot place a phone call to a prospect or meet with the prospect in person, the coach is equally prohibited from calling the prospect’s relatives or meeting the prospect’s relatives in person. If a college coach or prospect violate recruiting rules, it is possible that the recruit could be ruled ineligible to compete for the college that was involved in the rules violation. While eligibility reinstatement is possible through an appeal process, it is of course best to follow all the rules in the first place.
PHONE CALLS: Division I college coaches can place telephone calls to prospects starting July 1 following the completion of the prospect’s junior year in high school. The date in Division II is June 15 immediately preceding the prospective student-athlete’s junior year in high school. This is almost a year earlier than what is permitted in Division I. Once the applicable date is reached, the coach is only allowed one completed phone call per week, but the phone call can be of any duration. The one phone call is an institutional limit, so a prospect cannot get one phone call in a week from the head coach and another from an assistant coach. A prospect can call a college coach at any time during their high school career as many times as they want. As long as the coach answers the phone, the prospect and coach can talk for as long as they like. However, a college coach cannot return a phone call or message, even if requested to by the prospect, unless it is in the normally allowed period of time. And, they cannot return a phone call if they have already utilized their one phone call per week.
LETTERS & E-MAIL: Division I college coaches can send printed recruiting materials, general correspondence and e-mail to prospects starting September 1 at the beginning of the junior year in high school. The date in Division II is June 15. There is no limit on the quantity of letters and e-mails that can be sent. Prospects can send letters and e-mails to college coaches at any time in their high school career as often as they want. Prior to the specified date, college coaches can only respond to a letter from a prospect requesting information with non-recruiting specific information such as information on NCAA rules or a referral to the admissions department. In Division I, coaches are not allowed to communicate with recruits through the use of text messaging, instant messaging, bulletin boards, chat rooms, or social networks such as Facebook.
EVALUATIONS: College coaches may observe a prospect in practice and competition in order to evaluate their athletic ability. They can conduct evaluations at any point in the prospect’s high school career. If a college coach is observing a practice, he/she may not ask the high school coach to have the team conduct a specific workout or drill or otherwise influence the conduct of the practice session.
CONTACTS: In Division I, starting July 1 after completion of the junior year in high school, college coaches can have face-to-face, in person meetings with a prospect and the prospect’s relatives that take place off the college’s campus. Contacts are allowed much earlier in Division II; June 15 before the start of the junior year in high school. These contacts can take place in the prospect’s home, the prospect’s high school (only with prior permission of the high school principal), at a practice site or at a competition site. In Division I, a maximum of three contacts can take place. There is no limit in Division II. A college coach may address a group of athletes following a practice session if the high school coach permits it. However, that group can only include athletes who have reached the date proscribed by the NCAA rules (e.g. seniors for Division I). Underclassmen may not listen in at all, even on the periphery of the group, as this would constitute an improper contact.
The rules for contacts at a competition site are very restrictive. College coaches cannot contact or make telephone calls to a prospect from the time the prospect begins competition-related activity until all of the competition is over and the high school coach has released the athlete. This rule applies to multi-day events as well; no contacts or phone calls until completion of competition on the final day. Keep in mind that if the college coach puts himself in a position to greet or be greeted by a prospect or the prospect’s relatives and a greeting is exchanged, this counts as a contact. Thus even a simple comment from the coach to the prospect like “good race” could constitute a contact. The college coach can have contact with the prospect’s family at any time during competition.
UNOFFICIAL VISITS: Visits that are not paid for by the school are called unofficial visits. Prospects and their parents can make visits to colleges at their own expense at any time during their high school career as many times as they want. The only restriction is that colleges cannot arrange for, facilitate or be involved in unofficial visits during an NCAA recruiting dead period. The dead periods for rowing are the four-day periods at the beginning of the fall and spring National Letter of Intent Signing Period. The only thing that a college can provide during an unofficial visit is a maximum of three complimentary tickets to a home sporting event. Many schools encourage recruits to make unofficial visits in conjunction with home football and basketball games. During an unofficial visit, a school can provide transportation between campus and the rowing team’s off-campus practice facility. But all other expenses associated with the unofficial visit, including parking, must be at the prospect’s expense.
OFFICIAL VISITS: Prospect’s may make official visits that are paid for by the recruiting institution starting the opening day of classes their senior year in high school. Prior to any official visit, the recruit must provide a copy of their high school transcript and either SAT, ACT, PSAT or PACT scores. The prospect must also be registered with the Eligibility Center prior to taking an official visit. The college can pay for transportation for the recruit to and from the college campus, room and board during the visit, and reasonable entertainment. The recruit’s parents or legal guardians can accompany the recruit on an official visit and the college can pay for their room, board and entertainment expenses. Under current NCAA rules, the college cannot pay for the parents’ transportation unless the recruit and parents drive to the visit in the same car. A current member of the rowing team hosts most recruits. The recruit can stay in on-campus housing or at a nearby hotel. Official visits are restricted to a maximum of 48 hours in duration. Recruits also are limited to a maximum of five official visits with no more than one visit per school.
SCHOLARSHIPS: Some colleges and universities offer athletics-based scholarships for rowing. Athletics scholarships are separate from need-based and academic scholarships. Under NCAA rules, Division I and II schools can offer athletic scholarships. Division III schools cannot offer athletic scholarships. Some athletic conferences, such as the Ivy League, have chosen not to offer athletic scholarships as a matter of conference policy. Athletic scholarships can only pay for tuition, fees, room, board and required books. So an athletic scholarship does not pay for the full cost off attendance at a college; transportation, school supplies, laundry and other incidentals cannot be covered. Under NCAA rules, student-athletes may be able to combine other sources of financial aid with athletic scholarships in order to cover the full cost of attendance. The maximum number of scholarships that the NCAA permits is an equivalent of 20 for the entire team. But rowing scholarships can be provided on either a full or partial basis, so there may be more than 20 rowers on scholarship at any one time. Partial scholarships can be for any amount greater than zero but less than a full scholarship. Not all schools that offer rowing scholarships award the maximum of 20. A school can make a scholarship offer to a recruit at any time, and a recruit can commit to a school at any time. But these commitments are not binding on either party. Only high school seniors can actually sign a binding scholarship offer. Most schools that offer rowing scholarships participate in the National Letter of Intent (NLI) program. This program, run by the Collegiate Commissioners Association, provides a legally binding contract between the recruiting institution and the recruit. There are severe penalties if a recruit who signs an NLI decides to go to another rowing school that restrict the ability to compete for or receive scholarship at the second institution. Information on the NLI program is available at www.national-letter.org. There are two signing periods for women’s rowing. The fall signing period is typically for a week in the middle of November. The spring signing period typically begins in the middle of April and extends until the fall semester/quarter begins. Please keep in mind that most scholarship offers are only for a one-year period. Scholarships can be renewed, and also increased, throughout a student-athlete’s years of eligibility. NCAA rules now allow for four-year guaranteed scholarships, but few schools have chosen to utilize that option.
INITIAL ELIGIBILITY: Every institution that offers a rowing program makes its own decision on whether or not to extend an offer of admission to a prospective rowing student-athlete. However, there is a completely separate and independent process that is used to determine if a graduated high school senior is academically eligible when they begin their collegiate rowing career. All college freshmen in NCAA Division I and II must be certified by the NCAA Eligibility Center. If a college freshman is not certified, they may not practice with the rowing team, compete with the rowing team or receive athletics-based scholarship. The eligibility determination is made based on the grade point average in sixteen core courses, the results of the SAT or ACT test and proof of high school graduation. Complete information is available at www.eligibilitycenter.org. High school rowers are encouraged to tell their guidance counselor that they intend to participate in varsity level athletics in college so that they can plan to meet NCAA Eligibility Center requirements. They also are encouraged to register with the NCAA Eligibility Center in their junior year. The NCAA Eligibility Center also administers the process of certifying the amateur status of all high school graduates.
This article was written by Bill Zack, Chair of the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association Legislative Review Committee. It was last updated in January of 2013. Please check with the NCAA for the most up-to-date information.