Every coach, player and parent in premiere travel softball knows by now that new NCAA D1 recruiting rules went into affect this past April.
They barred contact with any potential student athlete (PSA) before September 1 of their junior year of high school, with very limited exceptions (camps and combines, for example, where recruiting conversations are still prohibited).
The age group this seems to have had the most immediate impact on has been the 2022 (14U) class, and has impacted the entire softball industry to include showcase events, recruiting services, scouting combines and camps.
WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF SHOWCASES FOR 14U?
The result of the change has been a sharp decrease in D1 college coaches attending 14U games at the 2018 fall showcases they had attended in the past.
“There have been a lot fewer D1 coaches at our games after the rule change, and those that do come, don’t stay very long,” said John Osborne, coach of the 14U Indiana Shockwaves 2K4. “They were coming for a 16U game after ours, or stuck around for a few minutes after the 16U game prior.”
Jeremy Higdon, president of Connect Sports which puts on the Scenic City showcases, said they made no changes to the schedule or location from the past for the 2018 summer and fall.
“We knew the change was coming, but we didn't realize it would be so quick. This summer we saw the coaches attendance at 14U games was lower, however the fall, compared to years past was crazy,” said Higdon, who added, “I wanted to see it with my own eyes, so it was very interesting to go to 14U park full of super pools and for there to be hardly any coaches at all -- despite having the same number of college coaches overall (270-280 D1- JUCO coaches) at our event.”
As a result, Higdon says they are going to revaluate everything, including eliminating the 14U-exclusive park at their events. They had 360 teams in all age groups in the summer and 290 teams in the fall.
However, Scott Wachholz, head coach at D1 University of Wisconsin Green Bay, still watches as many 14U games as he can.
“The emphasis on committing a younger PSA has now been removed,” he said. He added that he looks for PSAs based on their interest in the program, work ethic and performance on the field, and “that begins to show at the 14U level.”
So, will premiere and other travel organizations begin to reconsider traveling to showcases where there will be little D1 exposure for their 14U players? Will they adjust and play up to the 16U age group?
Mark Lloyd, the coach of the premiere 14U Indiana Gators ’04 said, “We will continue to send our better teams to the high profile showcases to get that competition level. I also know while there are fewer D1 coaches there, we will still get some to our 14U games. The organization does its homework by making sure our teams are playing on the right fields in the right pools. At Scenic City this fall, we had a lot of Big Ten coaches at our games as a result of our kids emailing and getting the word out.”
Organizers of the high-profile showcases already put premiere 14U teams in Power Pools where they get to play each other. Perhaps more importantly, they mix the 14U with the power pools from the 16 & 18U so the D1 coaches can see them all more easily.
Travel coaches seem to have a similar view.
“You may see some 14U teams that can compete at 16U level playing up at some of the smaller showcases because they know they will play better competition and there will be coaches there,” said Osborne. “However, the premiere 14U teams will still go to the premiere showcases and play 14U because they get the best pools and share the fields where the coaches are coming to watch top tier 16 & 18U players already.”
WHAT WILL HAPPEN AT PGF NATIONALS & WORLD FASTPITCH CHAMPIONSHIP FOR 14U?
It remains to be seen if college coaches will come to see the 14U age group at the major summer events like the Boulder Independence Day Tournament (IDT) and Triple Crown Softball Sparkler in Colorado, the USA Elite Select World Fastpitch Championship (USAES) in Kansas City or will stay for the second week at PGF Nationals in California.
In the summer of 2018, there were still D1 coaches watching some 14U games -- at least for the elite teams at these events – but the number was reduced from years past according to all accounts. This may be in large part because the 14U and 16U tournaments were held during the same weeks at the same locations.
Both USAES and PGF have changed their formats for 2019. Now 12U and 14U are paired in the same week, while 16U and 18U are now paired in a different week. This does not bode well for many college coaches to attend the 14U games. These tournaments still carry the prestige of the hosting the best competition, so premiere teams will still come to play, but likely with a lot less exposure than has been in the past. The exposure for the younger age groups will now likely be limited to the pre-tournament camps staffed by college coaches.
“While I like the location of the WFC in Kansas City and that they play full seven-inning games and have top competition, I am concerned that by pairing the 12 and 14U this year that there will be few -- if any -- D1 coaches there,” said Lloyd.
COMBINES, RECRUITING SERVICES, RECRUITING CONSULTANTS AND CAMPS
While the 14U exposure at showcases and premiere tournaments diminishes, the prominence of scouting combines, recruiting services, recruiting consultants and camps has risen sharply as parents and PSAs seek other ways to get the attention of college coaches.