How Do They Do That? The Secret to Signing Big Recruiting Classes

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.


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7 years ago

Agree with Suny Cal. These teams just give the Americans less money and use the scholarship for foreigners who have an age advantage on most of the American athletes. It really has been a problem for American athletes in my opinion.

7 years ago

If that’s the case, can someone explain to me how Joseph Schooling can keep $250,000 bonus from Songapore prior to his Freshman year at Texas?

Reply to  Swimfan
7 years ago

The Grand Inquisitor put it above, towards the bottom. Schooling is allowed to receive funds from Singapore based on his performance in one event at the highest level of competition for the year as defined by the government body. Since its not from USA swimming, it doesn’t really matter in the NCAA

Reply to  Swimfan
7 years ago

Because receiving money from getting 1st, 2nd, or 3rd at a swim meet (allowable under ncaa rules in this case + some others) is much different than receiving money from getting 1st, 2nd, or 3rd at a swim meet (forbidden under ncaa rules for Grand Prixs, APA)

Joel Lin
7 years ago

Chris — is it within NCAA rules for foreign swimming federations to stipend athletes for their US college tuition and board? Just wondering if it is the case there is a hidden advantage to recruiting student athletes who’d have their college paid for by national swimming federations in UK, Germany, Italy, Aussie, etc etc.

I would presume this toggles a rule in terms of benefits allowed vs benefits deemed as compensation violating amateur status.

The Grand Inquisitor
Reply to  Chris DeSantis
7 years ago

The NCAA does allow athletes to receive funds beyond scholarship money which does not count toward the school scholarship limit. For US athletes, this is specifically funds from the US Olympic Committee granted under the Operation Gold Program. There is an analogous exemption for non-US athletes:

Applicable NCAA Rules:
Operation Gold Grant.

An individual (prospective student-athlete or student-athlete) may accept funds that are administered by the U.S. Olympic Committee pursuant to its Operation Gold program. (Adopted: 4/26/01 effective 8/1/01)
Incentive Programs for International Athletes.

An international prospective student-athlete or international student-athlete may accept funds from his or her country’s national Olympic governing body (equivalent to the U.S. Olympic Committee) based on place finish… Read more »

The Grand Inquisitor
Reply to  The Grand Inquisitor
7 years ago

If anyone is interested in all the gory details, see this:

Fig 15-1 provides a nice summary

SUNY cal
7 years ago

Or bring in foreign swimmers who are so happy to get to our country to get education & train – their families also seem to have plenty of funds so scholarship monies are not the driving factor – getting in the states is!!

About Chris DeSantis

Chris DeSantis

Chris DeSantis is a swim coach, writer and swimming enthusiast. Chris does private consulting and coaching with teams and individuals. You can find him at Chris is a 2009 Graduate from the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania. He was the first professional athletic coach …

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