The Lehigh women’s lacrosse team gathers for a huddle on Feb. 7, 2020, at a game against Iona College. Lehigh sports teams are now faced with recruiting athletes in a non-traditional way as a result of coronavirus. (Courtesy of Lehigh Sports).

Coronavirus outbreak alters plans for athletic recruitment

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Lehigh coaches weren’t supposed to wonder how they would spend their time this spring. Along with their coaching duties, many were prepared to work closely with Lehigh’s Admissions Office and Financial Aid Office to recruit high school athletes, building upon the foundations set by their current players. 

These plans came to a screeching halt for the entire nation, as the NCAA announced a recruitment moratorium for Division Ⅰ and Division Ⅱ sports through April 15 in response to the coronavirus outbreak. 

This mandate means coaches and high school athletes are prohibited from taking part in on-campus or in-home visits, face-to-face contact and live evaluations at games or tournaments. Chris Wakely, Lehigh’s associate director of athletics for recruitment, however, said these adjustments should not be viewed as major setbacks to the recruitment process. 

“Coaches can still focus a lot on evaluating their recruiting processes and on evaluating their pool of prospects for each position that they are recruiting,” Wakely said. 

Wakely remained hopeful, saying there has been little disconnect between the Lehigh offices involved in recruitment. 

He said this pause offers a period of reflection for both coaches and high school athletes. 

“The best thing (high school athletes) can do right now is define themselves and define what exactly they are looking for out of an institution (or) out of a student athlete experience,” Wakely said. 

Athletes’ primary focus, he said, should be on staying healthy and succeeding academically during this period. 

Wakely said the goal of coaches before the outbreak was to be connected with and supportive of student athletes, and this goal remains throughout this time of uncertainty in the world. 

This point was echoed by Lehigh women’s lacrosse head coach Jill Redfern. While expressing her concern over the unpredictability of the pandemic, Redfern said her main objective is to respect this period of waiting to ensure the safety of her athletes.

“We are on a day-to-day plan as far as how we are approaching things, and the greatest priority that our staff has right now is supporting the 29 women that are currently enrolled in our program,” Redfern said.

With the recruiting pause scheduled to end on April 15, this would be the first possible date for national letter of intent signings. However, the recent projections of medical experts leave few convinced this date will remain definitive.

Lehigh men’s tennis head coach Wouter Hendrix said while much of the process to come is unknown, recruitment is being approached one day at a time. 

“Without the in-person visits, contact and evaluations happening, it is definitely a challenge from both the side of the coach and that of the prospect,” Hendrix said. 

Maintaining communication with recruits has been critical and, in regard to those who have yet to be evaluated, Wakely said film is crucial. 

As someone who was a college athlete and coach himself, having been the Lehigh men’s lacrosse head coach from 2001-2008, Wakely said he has found there to be few secrets involved in the process. 

He said it will undoubtedly feel uncomfortable for high school athletes to not have their spring season, but they should find solace in the open communication of recruitment and in alternative options for their talents to be seen. 

Given the circumstances unfolding, Wakely and Lehigh’s coaches presented an optimistic approach to the impact this global crisis has had on recruitment. It was agreed that this is a period to slow down, ultimately minimizing the chance of impulsive decision-making. 

Redfern said the moratorium allows coaches to serve as useful resources for prospective student-athletes. 

“Right now, we are trying to give all of our prospects time to process their own personal situations, dealing with however their families are intimately impacted,” Redfern said.

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