Within each recruiting year, there are schools that distinguish themselves by hauling in a huge load of incoming talent. With the common knowledge that scholarships are limited in swimming, that can often leave fans scratching their heads. I see comments all the time on this site underneath a big commitment or signing asking how it is possible that so many swimmers are coming all at once.
It can be easy in the void to start attributing this to some form of cheating or trickery. However, there are several perfectly reasonable and by the book ways that schools find to land large recruiting classes.
#1, Create Value
People focus on scholarships and their amount because it is a tangible and measurable figure. What can’t be measured is the value that incoming athletes place on the given swimming environment in one school. The truth is that there are many swimmers that don’t take the highest scholarship offer.
They go somewhere where they think that they are going to have the best opportunity. This applies not only to swimming. Ivy League schools get consistently good recruiting classes without scholarship dollars, partially because of “need based” financial aid and partially because incoming athletes perceive great value in an Ivy League degree.
A school like NC State has seen a tremendous improvement in their recruitment, in my opinion mainly owing to the awesome job they have done in developing swimmers. Swimmers can look at swimmers who came to the school and see their great improvement and they see value in going to a school where they can do the same.
#2, Make the NCAA Rules Work For You
Lots of people like to criticize the NCAA for its Byzantine set of rules governing college athletics. However, knowledge of these rules is crucial to coaches looking to build a roster in the most cost-efficient way possible.
One of the ways that schools will often lessen the blow in the short term of a high scholarship signing is by delaying their “start” until the spring semester. Think of it this way, you only have 1/2 of a scholarship left to give but you have a stud recruit that can come in right away and score NCAA points. If you delay their start until January, you can still give them a “full ride” without spending more than the 1/2 scholarship in that given year.
#3, When It Comes to the Money, Don’t Forget About Geography
As I said in a previous post, being a public university in a top swimming state is a huge advantage. The reality is that most athletes are not on full scholarship. Therefore, there are a lot of swimmers looking at the bottom line.
Generally, attending a public university in-state can be around half the cost of an out of state school, which combines with generous scholarship programs offered to all in-state students, not just athletes. This means that many programs with huge recruiting classes probably offer in-state swimmers a scholarship that is low in percentage but still gives them a better bottom line figure than they will find elsewhere. Combine this factor with the two above, and it’s easy to see how some of these schools are able to win so big in the recruiting game.