See the 2020 early signing day list for Dallas-area athletes here.
When Manny Obaseki talks each week with his future Texas A&M men’s basketball coaches, the John Paul II senior guard updates them with his on-court progress and asks about the latest with the team.
Since the coronavirus pandemic started to disrupt daily life in mid-March — a few days after Obaseki committed to the Aggies in the 2021 class — their conversations have also included advice about how to control the nerves and doubt that come with so much unknown.
Never have those lessons been so applicable — for Obaseki and for a class of senior high school athletes preparing to confirm their college scholarships Wednesday on national signing day.
This signing period, for all sports besides football, is the first of four in the 2021 recruiting cycle and the first for a class of athletes entering a college sports world where it’s clear the pandemic is not a short-term setback.
As this year’s seniors celebrate the milestone traditionally marked with large ceremonies and reflection, they will start their path into a landscape where issues as minute as team size and as overwhelming as higher-education economics have become prominent questions that many expect will plague the NCAA for years to come.
“It’s tough because there’s just so much going on, and you just wish everything was over sometimes,” said Obaseki, a four-star prospect. “With signing day approaching and all the eligibility and stuff like that, you’ve just got to let it take its course. … Everything is in the balance really day by day.”
The NCAA recruiting calendar has long been rhythmic.
College coaches have years to scout players during high school seasons, club tournaments and on athletes’ visits to campuses and summer camps. Scholarship offers tend to come midway through a players’ high school tenure, and relationships between teams and recruits deepen from there.
By the time athletes reach the signing periods — in December and February for football and November and April for all other sports — filling out the national letter of intent is often a formality.
That’s not so in 2020.
The NCAA has suspended in-person recruiting since mid-March. Athletes aren’t allowed to take visits, either.
After the shutdown, just the non-football signing period in April remained for the 2020 class. Most of those signees had already been committed and spent years building camaraderie with their future schools.
This year’s seniors are the first to feel the full effects of the pandemic-forced distance and limitations.
Many Dallas-area seniors had to take virtual official visits, rather than traveling to the school for a weekend of immersion with the program and its members.
Some players hoping for recruiting boosts during their junior spring seasons and summer club circuits missed out completely. Their few chances for new impressions came through updated film and the occasional live stream available at high school or third-party games.
“The video has been a difficult task,” said Dan Olson, national recruiting expert for Collegiate Girls Basketball Report. “Yeah, you probably have a sense of that player. You’ve been recruiting, watching her, but it’s nothing like the live deal.”
College teams, meanwhile, have to balance planning for the future and the present — and the likelihood they collide.
In the spring, the NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility to all athletes whose seasons were canceled, but left decisions about expanding roster sizes and scholarships to individual schools.
The organization also gave all fall athletes a blanket redshirt year, regardless of whether their teams will play full seasons. Expect similar action in the winter, and possibly again next spring, if the coronavirus continues to surge throughout the U.S.
The changes prompt several questions:
How many schools will decide to expand scholarships and team sizes? Most? Some? Few?
Will it depend on whether a sport drives revenue like football and men’s basketball or operates at a loss like most others?
What other sources could generate extra funding if ticket sales are limited or prohibited, health and safety precautions are more expensive, and tuition from general student-body enrollment is declining?
Will incoming freshmen then face the biggest disadvantages for capitalizing on the playing time, scholarship amounts and roster security that coaches pitched before the pandemic?
“Even if we had a vaccine today,” Olson said, “the repercussions are going to be there for a while.”
During an important stretch of her senior year, Frisco Lebanon Trail’s Tyrah Ariail has tried not to fixate on the what-ifs.
The USC volleyball program she committed to in July 2019 had its season postponed until 2021, forcing her to cancel her Thanksgiving trip to watch and bond with her future teammates.
As her mom plans a surprise signing day celebration, sandwiched between her senior night and Lebanon Trail’s playoff run, Ariail has kept her focus on what’s certain.
“All I know,” she said, “is I’m signing paper on Wednesday.”
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