October 8, 2015

College Volleyball Recruiting and the Libero - Question #2894

Dear Coach Sonnichsen,
Thank you so much for your website, you have really provided some great info for those of us going through this crazy process.  I was reading the post from the parent that was asking about their D$/L dilemma with the recruiting process.  

Our daughter is also a Libero / DS in the graduating class of 2017.  We have always heard what you indicated that Libero / DS positions are always late in the commitment process.  We began the process this past March and were at first blown away by the over 30 DI reply's that we got from our daughters video.  We took the direction of the initial emails which was the standard, "this is the only email we can send until September 1st of her Junior year, please keep us up to date on your progress, we look forward to getting to know you better ".  Several of the schools provided cell phone numbers for her and instructed her that she could contact them but they couldn't call her.  When my daughter started making calls to those schools, with the exception of 2, there was a lot of awkwardness involved by the coaches.  

We did get several emails from Big 12, Big 10, SEC, USA and ACC schools that had already committed to the Libero / DS position for 2017.  Several of these schools asked if she would be interested in walking on, however all were out of state schools.  We did leave the door open to a couple of the schools just because of the quality of the programs.  Now that the September 1st date has come and gone 3 more schools have indicated the same thing that they have already committed to the position, 2 of those schools also asked her about the possibility of walking on.  

How should we evaluate this logically as parents, the probability of us being willing to pay for 4 years of out of state tuition is not very high (unless there is a trick to avoiding it).  Some of these coaches have used some adjectives in their sentences like, impressive recruit, impact player at her position, one coach even asked if he could pass her name to some other school coaches.  Do we take any of this serious or is it a lot of smoke? 
As parents we have tried to be realistic with our daughters ability knowing there are 1000's of girls all competing for the same spots.  What is a clear sign that we can take from an email or conversation that lets us know that she even has a real shot at a DI school?

Thank you for the compliments on the website, and I hope that you may have taken time to read Inside College Volleyball.

Your email and questions will help many other families which are trying to understand today's recruiting culture, most especially within the NCAA Division I ranks.

When I present Recruiting Education Talks for NCSA Athletic Recruiting, one of my key points is that 'supply has exceeded demand'.  With the growth and professionalization of Club Volleyball (full time positions, volleyball only facilities, huge 3 day national level tournaments, 2 governing bodies, etc.), the number of collegiate level recruits has exceeded the college volleyball scholarships available each year.

As per your email, the Libero/Defensive Specialist is arguably the clearest example of this status, but the Setters and average sized Outside Hitters are also falling into this category.  In addition, your email illustrated the current recruiting protocols employed by NCAA DI programs - They send out early emails/letters to a large group of prospective recruits, with flowery language and invitations to call.  But, the reality of the recruiting is apparent with the awkward conversations and responses indicating that the scholarship for the graduation year has already been committed.  College coaches throw a large net, just to make sure a big fish does not get away, but there are only so many big fish.

If a NCAA Division I coach wants your daughter on the team, then they will offer a scholarship.  Everything else you hear or read, is either a recruiting white lie (because your daughter was not the big fish in the net) or an effort to get another free player on the roster which might eventually help the program.

Specific to L/DS's, a number of DI schools will employ the 'walk onto scholarship' method; have a couple of L/DS's walk on each year, and the best one may get a scholarship by the Junior or Senior year.  Of course, should a stud incoming Freshman be available, then those walk on players will be out of luck, because the "program needs this player".

Families of those Lovely Liberos must take a hard look at just how important is playing NCAA Division I? And honestly, the better word may be 'practicing' Division I - Do the math, a couple of walk on L/DS's means there are 6 players collegiately trained back row players ahead of you and they will play first.  

For some players/families, the status of saying "I play for State University" is worth walking on and accepting the large time commitment incumbent to being a NCAA Division I volleyball player.  There are many positives; preferential enrollment, academic support, social support system on campus, physical health and access to elite facilities, resume building, etc.

Yet, there is a great world outside of NCAA Division I volleyball.  As I have written and spoke about often, I personally believe that the 'best' opportunity for collegiate volleyball is NCAA Division II.  NCAA DII packages their scholarships (athletic, academic, merit and need based) which will often approach a 'full scholarship' (especially if the player has a good academic record).  DII does not mandate the huge time commitment - The season is shorter, mandatory summer school for team/player training has not arrived, holiday periods off, less travel, etc.  You can have a balanced collegiate experience because your entire existence is not mandated by the volleyball program.  And, because of the today's business like DI environment, the pressure to win is not as great in DII which often results in more player roster stability.

Back to the back row…….If walking on to a NCAA Division I program is not financially or emotionally comfortable for the family, then open the door to NCAA Division II, NAIA and Junior College programs.  They will be able to provide a better opportunity than what is currently being presented at the DI level.


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