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Lafayette, Lehigh coaches discuss how scholarships changed the recruiting process
Patriot League football coaches visit recruits armed with two major selling points: a chance to play college football and an opportunity to receive a great education.
Now, league coaches and their assistants are able to draw on another weapon from their quiver.
Beginning in 2013, Patriot League football programs are able to award up to the equivalent of 15 athletic financial aid awards each year to incoming student-athletes, including transfers. The total may not exceed 60 equivalencies in any year (beginning in 2016).
“It’s not a magic wand by any stretch,” Lafayette College coach Frank Tavani said. “It doesn’t mean you’re going to win every battle, but I think we’re in a lot more battles. Now you’re hearing from places you might not have gone to in the past and it’s easier when you have that to offer.”
Lehigh University coach Andy Coen said the league’s addition of athletic-based aid “opens up a whole other dynamic” in recruiting. The head coach even admitted his assistants have been “received a lot better by high school coaches” on the recruiting trail.
Coen said trying to form the incoming Class of 2017 has been more of an accelerated process compared to years past. He said the Mountain Hawks, who have won two of the last three league titles, began evaluating players during the spring and summer.
“We actually had four or five kids up for official visits during the season, which was a change for us,” Coen said. “It was a good thing. It’s become a more selective process without a doubt and that’s a huge part.”
Due to the number of scholarships that are allowed per class, Tavani and Coen have found this year’s recruiting process to be more arduous.
Lafayette welcomed classes of 30, 28 and 32 student-athletes in the past three seasons. Lehigh attracted recruiting classes of 22, 26 and 28 during that same time span.
“Because it’s been more selective, we probably visited fewer kids,” Coen said. “In the past we’ve been in contact with 40-50 kids to get a class of say 27. We’re going to bring fewer kids to campus to get our class now.”
“I’m projecting a class of somewhere around 20-22 as opposed to the 28-32 (of recent years),” Tavani said. “It has been a much more intense process on our part; a lot more work.”
Now that Patriot League programs are paying for football players to come to the school to hopefully succeed on the field and in the classroom, coaches have pored over their recruits with a fine-tooth comb. There’s much more pressure on head coaches and their staffs to make sure the money is well spent.
“The biggest thing is not going too fast because you’ll make a lot of mistakes, especially when you’re at the end with three or four (scholarships) left,” Tavani said. “It’s a much more tedious process. You’re scrutinizing the evaluation process a lot harder because you’re trying not to make any mistakes because you’re talking half the bodies (compared to prior classes) and it’s a huge financial investment.”
With the availability of up to the equivalent of 15 athletic financial aid awards allowed per class, coaches also have the ability to divide them up and offer partial scholarships.
The process this offseason has almost been by trial-and-error for Patriot League programs, Coen said.
“We’re giving full ones but also breaking up scholarships so you have to determine that,” he said. “As you go through the process, we’re learning. It’s a little different for us. There are probably a few things I’ve done this year that I’ll change next year.”
Despite the added headaches, pressures, increased research and studying of game film, Coen and Tavani agree scholarships in the Patriot League are a welcomed addition in the hope of leveling the recruiting playing field at the national level.
“Believe it or not, it’s been a learning process as well,” Tavani said. “It’s certainly a different landscape in terms of how you recruit, get out to high schools and look at film. It’s been a very pleasant change.”
“I think league athletic directors and presidents did a great job getting us to this point but there will have to be wrinkles worked out in the upcoming years,” Coen said. “My biggest hope is that it changes how people view (the Patriot League) at the national level.”
By Michael LoRe, The Express-Times