March 7, 2021
Just under a year ago, on Mar. 10, 2020, the Ivy League announced the cancellation of its postseason basketball tournament — the first domino to fall in the pandemic-induced shutdown of sports.
With no games in the Ivy League since then and more than 30 other NCAA Division I conferences back to some form of competition, college recruiting consultants interviewed by the News reflected on how the year-long cancellation of Ancient Eight sports might influence the recruitment of prospective athletes in the future.
Four recruiting consultants — professionals who specialize in helping athletes find collegiate athletic destinations — told the News said they do not foresee major changes in Ivy League recruiting dynamics despite competition cancellations, although one consultant said the cancellations will inevitably affect recruits’ decisions. Citing the allure of an Ivy League degree, the consultants largely agreed that pitches from Ivy coaches will likely remain very persuasive for their academically-minded clients.
“From a recruiting standpoint, the Ivy League is just simply unique compared to any of the other conferences that are out there,” recruiting consultant Tom Kovic said. “The primary driver for prospects is admissions to some of the most brilliant academic institutions in the world, and this is not going to change.”
Kovic served as head coach of gymnastics at the University of Pennsylvania for 19 years before founding Victory Consulting, which helps athletes and families navigate the recruiting process. As a longtime coach in the conference, Kovic refined his pitches to recruits over the years, but the fundamental message remained the same: the Ivy experience persists well beyond the four-year undergraduate experience.
Brian Taylor, managing director of Ivy Coach — a New York-based college consulting firm — also believes the year-long cancellation of sports will not have a lasting effect on the attractiveness of the Ivy athletic experience.
“The parents and students we work with, I think they understand that this too shall pass,” Taylor said. “If they were interested in playing baseball for Yale before the pandemic, they’re probably still interested in playing baseball for Yale now.”
Although former Penn coach Kovic said his clients who hope to play in the Ivy League have not wavered in their interest, he mentioned that some sports may be impacted more than others.
For talented recruits in basketball, lacrosse and football, Kovic recognizes that other highly-ranked academic institutions could potentially pull some recruits away from the Ivy League.
“There are prospects out there that could be football players or basketball players that are looking seriously at the Ivy League,” Kovic said. “And now they’re getting interest from institutions like Stanford, Michigan, UNC Chapel Hill, which are in a sense on par with the Ivy League experience.”
Ben Slingerland, a freelance recruiting consultant who primarily works at Catapult, a wearable sports technology company, also claimed that the Ivy League’s reputation will not be undermined by the decision to cancel athletic competition for the entirety of this year. In his work at Catapult, Slingerland — who played soccer at Georgetown — collaborates with a number of Division I athletic teams, including some in the Ivy League.
Throughout his conversations with Ivy coaches, Slingerland said he sensed that long-term effects of the pandemic on recruiting would be limited. In general, both recruits and coaches believe Ancient Eight sports will return this fall without complication, according to Slingerland.
Unlike Slingerland, Kim Penny, founder of One-on-One College Consulting, expressed a bit more concern about longer-term changes to Ivy League recruiting. Despite the general consensus that Ancient Eight sports will return in the fall, Penny said she believed that the Ivy League’s decision to cancel League competition this spring will factor into the decision-making process for any prospective athlete.
According to Penny, athletes interested in the Ivy League have a number of alternatives in other high-achieving academic institutions. Even as Ivy coaches reassure recruits about the future of their programs, Penny sees the conference’s decision to cancel spring sports for the second consecutive year weighing on her clients.
“They’re going to be jaded,” Penny said. “They’re going to say, you know, if I do want the sport to be a part of my academic experience, I might have to second guess whether or not I’m going to get that at the Ivy League level.”
Ivy Coach’s Taylor, who works with both athletes and non-athletes in the college admissions process, cited pandemic-induced cuts to varsity teams — as opposed to the cancellation of seasons — as the major concern weighing on recruits.
Although Yale’s Director of Athletics Vicky Chun told the News last fall that Yale has no intention of cutting sports teams as a result of lost revenue during the pandemic, other Ivy League institutions have attempted to cut teams as a part of a University-wide cost-cutting effort. For example, Dartmouth announced its intention last summer to cut five varsity sports teams. At the end of January, following a long campaign coordinated by those teams and their student-athletes, alumni and an attorney, Dartmouth reinstated the programs after acknowledging that the cuts put them out of Title IX compliance.
Although Taylor acknowledged the attractiveness of the Ivy League brand for many athletes, he also noted that Dartmouth’s elimination and subsequent reinstatement of five programs will have an enduring impact on future Dartmouth recruits.
“If you’re a junior or sophomore even, and you’re a swimmer, are you going to be looking at Dartmouth now?” Taylor said. “I think that has a much more detrimental effect on recruiting than does the pandemic, but that was a product of the pandemic.”
The pandemic has laid bare the singular status of the Ivy League athlete when compared to its many other Division I peers competing this year. Even so, Kovic said that the distinctive nature of Ivy League athletics might be what continues to attract prospective recruits.
“They have a very powerful product that they’re pitching towards prospective student-athletes, one that can just be the difference between a good life and a great life,” Kovic said of Ivy League coaches. “That’s an intangible that you really can’t put a price tag on.”
Yale has 35 varsity athletic teams.
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