By Tom Mauldin - May 27, 2020
With summer travel tournaments cancelled or postponed from coast to coast, college recruiting budgets curtailed or frozen, more than ever before Fastpitch Northwest might be the needed and/or preferred regional recruiting location during this COVID19 pandemic.
It doesn't matter if you are a prospect for the next level or a coach looking for prospects for their collegiate program, 2020 is unlike any other softball year. What matters is an opportunity for player and coach to connect.
Starting with its small-group, on-field Prospect Evaluation Camps throughout the northwest in July and concluding with its early August College Exposure Tournament, Fastpitch NW's compact, three-day, mid-week event will prove most beneficial to recruiter and prospect. The mid-week time frame keeps spectators at a minimum, currently an issue with most proposed weekend events.
"This is certainly not a knock against the large or regional tournament events. It's just a reality that group limitations are mandated in every state and so many events have been cancelled,” said Fastpitch NW Director Mike Brooks. "We're not expecting a thousand players. Through our prospect camps we are inviting the top performers from Washington, Oregon and Idaho to showcase at the tournament with 200 or so prospects.”
To get an invitation to the August tournament, players must perform well at a prospect evaluation camp (PEC). The likelihood of PECS with smaller groups is looking more promising in each state each week as states move from Phase 1 to Phase 2 to Phase 3.
Brooks added, “In spite of the current circumstances we remain committed to our mission of providing this opportunity for the top Northwest Fastpitch players to perform in front of college coaches in pursuit of their dreams to compete at the next level. We are working on confirming our updated dates and locations for our evaluation camps and will announce the information as soon as possible.”
The normal recruiting season would have begun with the Memorial Day Weekend, but most events nation-wide were on pause or cancelled altogether.
Large events in Colorado and California are on hold as are several prominent Northwest tournaments. Fastpitch Northwest’s format is becoming more appealing with each passing week.
In addition to the PECs and tournament, Fastpitch NW offers a player profile on its website that is a coast-to-coast recruiting tool for any coach with a computer or phone.
Consider the obstacles facing college coaches today:
NCAA announced mandatory quiet period from June 1-30 with no off-campus recruiting. Only on-campus visits are allowed.
Many university summer camps cancelled. This is a big piece of recruiting that might be cancelled.There were no high school playoffs, districts, state tournaments due to cancellations.
Travel ball tournaments cancelled with unknown dates for re-scheduling.
Travel ball tournaments are being rescheduled to late August and September (Labor Day weekend) with hopes of being played. Many colleges will have started their terms and many teams will be in full fall practice mode.
And then there’s frozen budgets and unknown budgets. Add to that, restrictive travel will cutdown on our-of-region tournaments.
Those obstacles translates to audition issues for players. They are unprecedented times
Just ask the coaches and they will share that recruiting in the time of COVID19 is challenging. It doesn’t matter the level, from D1 to two-year colleges, recruiting is almost at a standstill.
“There has been a huge impact on recruiting. We start school in August,” said James Peterson, head coach at St. Martin’s University. “We will be practicing as a team the same time the Valley Invite in Portland is being played.”
“Our recruiting has been almost completely halted due to the virus,” said Eastern Oregon head coach Nicole Christian. “Our budgets are frozen, no travel, no tournaments to go to, and no campus tours.”
“I think like everyone else we are in a holding pattern for getting out and recruiting,” said Jessica Buel, head coach at Clackamas Community College. “It will depend on when quality tournaments start again. I don’t anticipate me or my coaching staff out recruiting until late summer, early fall in a normal capacity.”
“We’re making sure that we continue to be safe … the school has restricted travel for recruiting,” said College of Idaho head coach Al Mendiola. “We are on a spending freeze until further notice — most likely July 1.
“COVID19 has greatly impacted our recruiting, especially for the 2021 class,” said Blue Mountain CC head coach Steve Richards. “We had only a couple of spots to fill in our 2020 class when the pandemic hit and all travel was shut down. The NWAC still has recruiting restrictions in place prohibiting face-to-face contact so for now no tournaments or campus visit. We anticipate some relaxation of these by July but we will still only be recruiting within a reasonable drive from campus (so no trip to Colorado for Fourth of July).”
You get the picture.
While recruiting is greatly limited, they still must plan for the future of their softball programs.
“COVID has made me have to get more creative with my recruiting,” said Buel. “I have a lot of players contacting me late because of everything and we are doing zoom calls instead of regular visits. Players are creating videos in their backyards, so that I can see their skills. We have also created a virtual campus tour. It is not as personal as I would like, but we are adapting.”
Mendiola, who has always had several Fastpitch Northwest alumni on his teams, said he is going to rely on Fastpitch Northwest to see prospects.
“I'm going to rely on FPNW PEC's to see all the Idaho kids,” said Mendiola, who four years ago had a dozen FPNW alums on his Yotes’ roster. “If they register for the PEC's in their area it will make it a lot easier to see them.”
“Our routine has been the toughest. I had a few tournaments that I attended every summer cancelled, so not knowing when the tournaments are now makes it difficult to recruit northwest kids,” added Mendiola.
Peterson said with all programs from D1 to D3 taking budget cuts, “it might force more coaches to attend more local recruiting tournaments.
“We are looking at recruits that live in Hawaii. This is going to be a challenge to see these players this summer,” noted Peterson. “Our plan is still on hold as we get updates from players on our priority list,” said Peterson.
Mendiola said one of the keys to recruiting is to see a game. “I want to watch them play in a game. That shows their true character.”
And that is on hold.