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The IWLCA Division I coaching body voted to move the Sept. 1 contact date for the Class of 2022 until next July and has recommended the request to the NCAA for approval.

Earlier this month, the IWLCA’s NCAA Division I Legislation Committee surveyed DI women’s college coaches in regard to the upcoming Sept. 1 contact date. In the wake of the NCAA season cancelation, and in the midst of uncertainty in regard to returning to college campuses nationwide and the ongoing NCAA dead period extension, the IWLCA Div. I body voted in overwhelming support (76%) to move the Sept. 1 contact date. A majority of the votes favored the move to July 1, 2021.

“[The survey results represent] a supermajority, and I think that just really speaks to how common sense this notion is,” says Kerri Whitaker, associate head coach at the University of Pennsylvania and IWLCA NCAA Division I Legislation Committee member. “You haven’t seen these kids play since November. You haven’t really had an opportunity to see them develop… You haven’t had the opportunity to see them play live; they didn’t — most of them — play the entirety of the spring.

“I think the percentage [of votes to push Sept. 1 back] reflects a couple of things. One, this is just common sense — this just makes sense to push it back. I think there’s that and then there’s just the reality of where we are right now, in this country, and the priority of let’s get kids returning to school safely. Let’s get kids back on our campus and back into that routine of school, and hopefully sports, and make that a priority — not only for the colleges, but for the high school athletes… Right now, campus visits aren’t happening. They’re not going to happen anytime soon. An opportunity to meet players on your team? Not happening. So, all the prongs that you use to kind of assess kids throughout the recruiting process — they’re gone right now.”

The discussions of whether to push back a date that the IWLCA fought hard to get passed and to keep, as recently as last spring, have come in direct response to the unprecedented times we have seen as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic that brought the NCAA season to a halt back in March. As states have begun to re-open, colleges and universities have started to publicly lay out plans to responsibly and safely return to campus. With so much remaining up in the air, the IWLCA legislative committee’s ongoing discussions led to a formal survey that was distributed among Div. I IWLCA members in early July.

“[As a committee] we’ve been meeting since about April,” says Hannah Nielsen, University of Michigan head coach and IWLCA NCAA Division I Legislation Committee member. “Something that we really pride ourselves on is being ahead of making sure that the recruiting process is a fair one, is slow enough, and gives everybody ample opportunities to be seen and to see people. As we got deeper and deeper into the spring and early summer, I think we all realized the state of this country and this pandemic that’s going on and we really wanted to put safety at the forefront of everybody’s minds. So, we started having conversations about, ‘What does pushing [the Sept. 1 contact date] back look like? What is the best date to push it back to?’

“Even myself, in the very beginning—I wanted to keep September 1; but when you really think about it, and all that goes into it in terms of safety, quality opportunities to evaluate, pressure on both the kids and the coaches, competitive equity, all of that. You start really thinking about the 360-degree picture… That was the process that went into polling the coaching members and having a meeting with all the coaching members just to let them know what we’ve been discussing. We certainly weren’t trying to sway people one way or the other; but just [wanted] to make sure that people were also thinking about this from a little bit more of a wider lens.”

The IWLCA’s NCAA Division I Legislation Committee has formally recommend the request to the NCAA in regard to the preferred contact date—which will be recommended for the Class of 2022 only for the time being, as the contact date with the Class of 2023 would remain September 1, 2021.

“For right now, it is a rule just for this year just to get us through this pandemic,” adds Nielsen. “Then, we fully expect to return to how we were [recruiting] in the past.”

“I have personal experience recruiting with the July 1 contact date,” adds fellow committee member Tracy Coyne, who serves as the head coach at Saint Francis. Coyne led Notre Dame to its first and only Final Four appearance in 2006.

“Everybody’s top concern is the health and safety of the coaches and the recruits,” adds Coyne. “Because of the unknown, I think it causes a lot of anxiety. With that said, with pushing it back, I think it’ll all give us some breathing room where we don’t have to be worrying month to month—‘Is it going to be a dead period? Is a tournament on or off?’”

In formally proposing the postponement of the Sept. 1 contact date, the IWLCA now awaits approval from the NCAA. The NCAA is also expected to be making a public update to the ongoing NCAA dead period, as well, in the coming weeks.

The IWLCA expects to have an answer to their recommendation in mid-August, as Sept. 1 quickly approaches.

Meanwhile, uncertainty remains surrounding the return to collegiate campuses nationwide for the 2020-21 academic year. Multiple collegiate conferences have decided to cancel their fall sports entirely already. Elusiveness also remains nationwide whether fall lacrosse will happen, let alone the 2021 season—and if so, which student-athletes will be eligible to compete as many colleges and universities have outlined academic plans that demonstrate certain academic classes being on/off-campus during the spring semester.

The postponement of contact would allow both coaches and current Div. I student-athletes, alike, the opportunity to navigate their new normal before coaches engage in conversations with prospective student-athletes during a state of ongoing change during ever-changing times.

“No one, as a coach, has been through this,” Nielsen says. “As a young coach, it’s quite stressful to ensure you’re doing the right thing by your current student-athletes. I think there’s going to be a lot of issues that come up this fall with our current team with our ‘new normal’ that everybody’s talking about and how we navigate it and making sure as coaches all of our energy is spent making the experience for our current players the best it can possibly be in a new way of living.

“We’re in a pandemic, and I think people have forgotten that at certain times and are just trying to go about business as if things were normal. We need to really understand there’s going to be mental health issues at play, there’s going to be anxieties at play, there’s going to be struggles of coaches at play throughout this whole fall. To be able to have our undivided attention to what we are doing with our current team would be one real positive of pushing this back.”

Of course, the prospect of Sept. 1 contact date remaining in place is still highly possible, and coaches nationwide will do their best to prepare accordingly; but the IWLCA’s membership, overwhelmingly, hopes the NCAA considers their wish to postpone contact—allowing current players and coaches to adjust to normalcy upon returning (potentially) to campuses, and making for a more fluid recruiting process for the Class of 2022, as well.

“[Sept 1. contact in the current climate] would be complicated,” says Nielsen. “You’d have to do everything virtually at this point…I know there’s certainly college campuses out there that aren’t letting [outside visitors] come on campus, even if the dead period does get lifted. There’s just so much unknown with how things go ahead. I think we would try to make it as normal as possible to talk about our programs; but things are changing, and I think the patience factor in all of this—to have patience and for these prospective student-athletes to not rush into a decision without having seen a campus, without having met a coach in person. A part of the [recruiting] experience is coming and meeting the team—who you’re going to be playing with. I just don’t think that experience is going to be possible this fall.

“With all of the elements, we want our kids to have as normal a college experience as possible this fall and through this year. And I really want the 2022 class to have as normal as possible recruiting experience, as well, because it’s a huge decision and the recruiting experience itself should be fun and exciting and quite frankly shouldn’t be done over the internet.”

“We want the best for this Class of ’22,” adds Coyne. “We want to give them the opportunity to play at their best, and we recognize they have denied some practice opportunities with their high school team and they weren’t able to practice with their club team [as initially scheduled]. It’s been kind of scramble mode, and that’s not a great environment to showcase your skills and abilities… We want to give them the time to develop their game. They should look at it as an amazing chance where we’re supporting them in their development, as well as we’re supporting our own student-athletes on our current campus so that everybody benefits while we’re all staying safe. We have to focus on the most important thing, which is staying safe.”

-Inside Lacrosse
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