The recruiting process for track and field/cross country at the collegiate level can be quite different from many team sports, with a whole industry underpinning the recruiting process. While many team sports rely heavily on development through the travel club system, such as soccer, basketball, volleyball, baseball, etc.). Track and Field is a late-blooming sport. Schools do not make the most concrete recruiting decisions until schools the senior year of high school eligibility. It is extremely rare to see an early commitment to track and Field before 11th grade. Knowing this timeline is important to plan how you will approach the process for you and your parents to make it the best possible experience.
Recruiting Process for High School Track & Field Athletes
To begin the process, you will want to try to match up a selection of schools you are interested in with schools that may be interested in you. There are several factors that you can determine and correlate in generating your initial list. The two most important are as follows:
- What are your performances, and how do they compare with the prospective school’s performances at the prospective school’s conference and collegiate division (ex: NCAA D1, D2, D3, NAIA, etc.)
- What are your grades and test scores, and how do they relate to the academic requirements of the schools you are interested in.
To find the performance levels of a school’s program, you can just go to its athletic website and search its track & field page for performance lists and results. For the conference and national results, you can go to the respective conference websites or the www.ustfccca.org website to find all the statistical information you need for all divisions at each level. One of the good things about Track and Field is that many evaluations are initially based on lists, easily accessible on the internet.
Reaching Out To Schools
Once you have compiled a list of schools of interest, you can reach out to those schools and let them know of your interest. This can be done by e-mail or by filling out an online questionnaire. Very early in the message you should note what your personal bests are in your respective events, and any significant titles (such as State Champion, etc), along with your academic credentials. Coaches get a lot of messages, so you will need to “cut to the chase” pretty quickly. They want to know how good you are and if you will get into their school and be eligible. It is also helpful to provide a link to a video of your best performance(s), so they can see you perform for themselves.
It is important to remember that there are limitations on how much and when a college coach can contact you. Still, there are not that many limitations on what you can do to contact the coaches. So, you can take the initiative to let coaches know what you can do and how you perform, as well as let them know which meets you will be competing at etc. If you are a top-level performer, there is a very good chance they already know who you are.
Track & Field Scholarships
Track and Field is not a fully-funded sport in terms of scholarships. The maximum scholarship limitations for NCAA Division I are 12.6 scholarships for men and 18 scholarships for women. These scholarship allotments are for three sports (cross country, indoor Track & Field, and outdoor track & Field). It is the maximum number of people a program can have on scholarship at any one time. For example, it does not mean you can offer 12.6 scholarships on the men’s side to recruits per recruiting class. The total number of scholarships you have awarded is spread over 4-5 classes that are still actively part of the team. Typically, a program will have anywhere from 1-6 scholarships available to offer each year to sign new recruits based on the number of graduating seniors and/or student-athletes leaving the program for whatever reason. Therefore, you can see that full scholarships are hard to come by.
With Track and Field and Cross Country, breaking down scholarships into partial scholarships is common. That can range from a books scholarship (usually counted as ~2%) up to a full scholarship (all tuition & fees, room, board, books, and miscellaneous money for cost of attendance). At the NCAA Division, I level, a top 10 program may not offer a full scholarship to someone unless they can score at the NCAA Championships. A full scholarship may be awarded to someone who can score a few points at the conference meet for a mid-range NCAA Division I program. However, this being said, it really comes down to what an individual program wants to do, so these ranges are just a very rough estimate. Suppose a program does offer you a full athletic scholarship in track and field/cross country. In that case, they are interested in having you as part of their program.
Things to Consider in your Selection Process
There are a few things to consider and understand when proceeding with your school selection process about scholarship offers. This is especially true if the scholarship amount will be a determining factor. The first is to understand what a school is trying to achieve when they are awarding scholarships. What are their goals? What are they trying to achieve? Are they trying to win a National Championship, or are they not finishing in the bottom third of their conference? When you know the answers to these questions, you will figure out where your value is as a potential scholarship athlete. The following are a few things to consider:
- The better a program is, the harder it usually is to get scholarship money from that program.
- Just because your marks are better than current school members that you would like to go to does not mean you will get a scholarship offer. For example, if the goal of a prospective program is to score points at Nationals and none of the current athletes in your event(s) at that school are at that level this does not mean you will get a scholarship offer, unless you look like you can score at Nationals yourself.
- Being versatile in a number of events does not necessarily mean you will get a scholarship offer unless you can perform at a level that will help a team reach its goals in at least one of those events. A top performer in a single event is more coveted for high-level teams than an athlete who can do multiple events at a good level, especially if there are championship aspirations for that team.
The recruiting process can sometimes be confusing, especially for a sport like track and field/cross country. The talent evaluation process is not as subjective as it can be for team sports where quality of competition and political decisions can sometimes play a role in how successful someone seems or appears. Thankfully, your mark is in track and field/cross country, so it is a little more straightforward. Check the performance lists for the teams and schools you are looking at. Also, look at their placings as a team, and you should be able to determine your performance value to the program as a result. This will go a long way in helping you decide how to approach your own personal recruiting process.