The Scholarship Chase Chapter 4

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Starting a Conversation

If you have been following “The Scholarship Chase: Early Recruiting in Volleyball,” you are familiar with some of the arguments put forth against the current practice of offering scholarships to athletes as young as 14: the decision-making abilities of these young teens is decidedly lacking; there are a profound number of overuse injuries incurred from specialization in the sport at an early age; there is significant mental stress on the young athletes (not to mention their parents); and the transfer rate of student-athletes who committed early is on the rise.

The most recent attempt to curb the ever-increasing practice of early recruiting in women’s collegiate volleyball comes from the Ivy League, which just presented two proposals at the 2017 NCAA Annual Convention Division I Issues Forum in January; these proposals will now be discussed by the Division I Council in April. One proposal prohibits any offer, verbal or written, from a college coach until September 1 of the student’s junior year in high school. The other proposal prohibits any contact with the athletics department officials, including the coach, on campus until September 1 of the junior year.

According to Robin Harris, executive director of the Ivy League Council of Presidents, the Ivy League was not the only organization with similar proposals submitted at the recent NCAA Convention. Softball, field hockey and wrestling are also looking to challenge the current legislation. In the past, the Intercollegiate Men’s Lacrosse Coaches Association proposed rule changes in 2012 to the NCAA in an effort to curb early recruiting. At the time, the NCAA declined to examine the proposal because there was a moratorium on new recruiting rules. In 2015, the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association submitted two legislative proposals on recruiting to the NCAA. The second proposal would regulate the initial date for all contact with potential student-athletes (and their families). Just like the Ivy League proposal, it would mark September 1 of the student-athlete’s junior year as the first date of communication.

In reality, Harris says the Ivy League’s recent proposal to the NCAA was basically an attempt to get the conversation started, not necessarily to pass legislation at this point in time.

“We just knew if we submitted a proposal, we would at least have a shot at getting a conversation started,” Harris explains. “What we are actually proposing is that the [Student-Athlete Advisory Council] table the proposal in April to allow for the formation of an ad hoc group to actually look at early recruiting –– early commitments in particular –– and [determine] whether [the result] will be comprehensive legislation or sport by sport. [In reality], we think lacrosse has the support of the vast majority of the men’s and women’s coaches and we think that it should go through as the pilot program.

“Whatever it is we just think now is the time and this has been an issue for us for at least five years, if not more. Our [Ivy League] presidents have been talking about this for years and we have implemented policies and [come up with] educational materials so that we are very clear about our process and we keep raising it at the NCAA level. Finally, now we can see it is getting traction. Now we think the time is right for this review.”

Indeed, the Ivy League has a longstanding history of not recruiting any athletes younger than juniors. In an article titled “Ivy League Proposes New Legislation to Combat Early Recruiting” by Alex Liebowitz, and appearing on (Nov. 14, 2016), “The New York Times reported that Ivy League coaches avoid recruiting high school freshmen due to the standards for admission. Currently, the Ancient Eight schools do not offer athletic scholarships due to their promise to offer outstanding financial aid in its place. Coaches may only assist prospective athletes with obtaining a financial aid award by contacting the respective school’s admission and financial aid offices.”

However, a majority of the remaining institutions of higher learning that offer volleyball are actively recruiting high school freshmen––and younger––and many are finding these early recruits are transferring once they get “the full college experience” at their chosen school.

Perhaps one of the most oft quoted and readily accepted arguments is the notion that early recruits transfer institutions more often than those who follow the more traditional recruiting timetable. Is it truly a case of buyer’s remorse because the student-athlete made the decision at such a young age?

Not so fast.

At this point in time, there has only been one academic study conducted on the topic. “The Effects of Early Recruiting on NCAA Division I Volleyball Student-Athlete Retention” (2015) is a master’s thesis by Robert C. Hunter, Jr. (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). Prior to that, Rich Kern, the administrator of, published a study in 2007 that examined the relationship between transfers and early commitments (utilizing 2,410 student-athletes). Hunter uses Kern’s data set for his study and states, “Kern found that, although some later months showed higher rates of transfers, the overall trend was not that early commitments are transferring more than the student-athletes that wait” (Hunter, p. 24).

In 2011, Kern updated his original study, using information gathered on student-athletes from 2004-2009 for a grand total of 7,106. “He concluded that, yet again, the supposed link between early recruiting and transfers was unsubstantiated, as only 8.8% of athletes who committed between 29-48 months before their enrollment date then transferred, which is half of that of regular students who enroll at a four-year institution” (Hunter, p. 24).

The transfer argument, many opponents believe, stems from the sharp increase in volleyball student-athlete transfers from 2010 to 2013. “In 2010, there were 94 student-athletes who chose to transfer; in 2013, there were 266 student-athletes who changed institutions, according to” (Hunter, p. 4).

There have been a plethora of studies done, beginning in 1971, on the decision to leave a particular college before the completion of a degree (but not necessarily studies done to determine the reasons why students transfer institutions): Spady, 1971; Bean, 1980; DesJardins, Ahlburg, McCall, 1988; Rishe, 2003; Ferris, Finster, & McDonald, 2004), Rivera, 2004; and Crom, Warren, Clark, Marolla and Gerber 2009, all of which can be found on the Internet. All studies focused on the myriad reasons students in general decide to leave college before the successful completion of a degree. One of the earliest studies, conducted by William Spady in 1971, focused on Durkheim’s Theory of Suicide, whereby it was determined that a person was more likely to commit suicide if he/she were lacking integration into the society (Spady, 1971). “Spady applies Durkheim’s theory via a lack of integration into the culture and society of the institution, where students are unable to accept themselves into school” (Spady, 1971), whether it be related to family or socioeconomic status, ethnicity, gender, etc.

Nine years later, John Bean published an article and found “there were different determinants that wkaliwood ere statistically significant for men and women (Bean, 1980). Determinants for females tended to be focused around education quality, developing a routine, and their own commitment to an institution (Bean, 1980). Meanwhile, men tended to value communication and their own satisfaction with the university and education (Bean, 1980). Overall, the researcher found that the decision to leave for women was often more complicated and was more significantly related than their male counterparts, including academic success, development, and housing (Bean, 1980)” (Hunter, p. 19).

P.J. Rishe was the first, in 2003, to examine the correlation between athletic success and graduation rates. The most interesting determination from the study was “the disparity between genders that increases as athletic success increases, in that women have higher graduation rates and increase their advantage as athletic success goes up (Rishe, 2001)” (Hunter, p. 20).

Finally, the Rivera (2004) and Crom, Warren, Clark, Marolla and Gerber (2009) studies also focused on dropout rates specifically for student-athletes. Rivera determined “student-athletes identified the quality of their academic and athletic experience and support networks as the self-perceived most important factors for student-athletes (Rivera, 2004)” (Hunter, p. 21), while Cromwell, et al. analyzed 12,980 questionnaires. In this study, “the researchers concluded that the increased professional opportunity for male athletes over female athletes was one reason that females were more likely to stay in school (Crom et al., 2009)” (Hunter, p. 21).

Indeed, the question of general student and student-athlete retention through to graduation has been a hot topic for several decades now, obviously with various underlying factors determining the outcomes. However, the Hunter study in 2015 is the only one that focuses solely on asking the question if early recruitment had a major impact on student-athlete transfers –– specifically for women’s Division I volleyball. Hunter’s study analyzed 6,404 NCAA Division I volleyball student-athletes who committed between 2005-2010 and covered 327 institutions. The research questions were: 1) “Are NCAA Division I volleyball recruits who verbally commit to their institution more than 24 months before the first day of their freshman year in college significantly more likely to transfer or leave the team versus athletes who wait longer to make a commitment decision? and 2) If they are significantly more likely, what are some factors that could explain this occurrence?” (Hunter, p. 5).

In a nutshell, “the research and statistical analysis concluded that there was no significant influence on transfers or players leaving the team by early recruiting for the cases from 2005-2010. Early commitment seems to be one piece of a much larger predictive puzzle for this data set” (Hunter, p. 46). (The entire Hunter study can be found online at

Indeed, although the study demonstrates that early recruiting is not directly causing student-athletes to transfer, is early recruiting still interfering in some way with the student-athlete experience? Does it, therefore, demand some type of intervention by organizations like the NCAA? That is, of course, what Robin Harris and her colleagues are hoping for by expanding the dialogue.

And the conversation continues.

Works Cited

Bean, John P., “Dropouts and Turnover: The Synthesis and Test of a Causal Model of Student Attrition,” Research in Higher Education, 1980, Vol. 12, No. 2, 155-187.

Crom, Carrie L., Beverly J. Warren, Henry T. Clark, Joseph Marolla, and Paul Gerber, “Factors Contributing to Student-Athlete Retention,” Journal of Issues in Intercollegiate Athletics, 2009, 14-24.

Kern, Rich. “Do Early Commitments Lead to More Transfers: Revisited,”, 2011.

Kern, Rich. “Early Commitments: Total Evil,”, 2007.

Kern, Rich. “Early Commitment: Good or Evil,”, 2007.

Liebowitz, Alex. "Ivy League Proposes New Legislation to Combat Early Recruiting." The Dartmouth. N.p., 14 Nov. 2016. Web. 01 Apr. 2017. <>.

Rishe, P.J., “A Reexamination of How Athletic Success Impacts Graduation Rates: Comparing Student-Athletes to all Other Undergraduates,” American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 2003, 62, 407-421.

Rivera, Christina A., “The Identification of Key Factors Student-Athletes Perceived to be Important to the College Student-Athlete Retention Process,” The Ohio State University, 2004. Spady, William G., “Dropouts from Higher Education: An Interdisciplinary Review and Synthesis,” 1971.

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