Should Your Future College Coach Pick Your Prep School?

Some athletes have already committed to a college when they decide to switch from high school to prep school. When their future college coach recommends a prep school or two, the natural reaction of the athlete is to accept the recommendation on faith. After all, if the athlete and family are willing to trust the next four or five years of the athlete’s life to the college coach, why wouldn’t they trust the prep school recommendation of that coach? This is a tough situation for the athlete and family. Here’s why.

Most college coaches don’t know that much about prep schools. Though they almost always know more than the families, that’s not saying much. Many know enough to be dangerous, but not enough to offer well thought out, objective guidance. Their awareness is limited to a relatively small number of prep schools and doesn’t include enough about the non-athletic parts of the schools. These statements are not made arbitrarily. College coaches have called Prep School Sports Connection for decades asking for insight, help and information regarding prep schools, and we have listened to them and studied at length what they know and don’t know, even those who don’t call me for help.

College coaches are looking out for themselves first. While you may trust them and think they’re great (and they usually are), don’t think there aren’t times when they’re going to do what’s best for themselves. This is one of them. They are most likely going to pick a prep school for two reasons. One, they want the athlete at a school where the chances are smallest that the athlete will get recruited away from them by another college before the athlete actually signs and matriculates at their school. That means a prep school situation and coach who will protect the college coach’s interests by shielding the athlete from possible recruiters from other colleges. Many families would respond that by saying it doesn’t matter as they’ve already made their college choice and it’s not going to change. They would be missing the point. There’s a risk, and the coaches know it better than you. They do this for a living. Most families have never been through this before. As much as the coaches like you and want to help you, they want to protect their interest more. So they pick a prep school that minimizes their risk, not one that maximizes opportunity or provides the athlete the best overall fit for this very important year or more of personal development. By the way, many families would be surprised at the number of athletes who change their mind and choose a different college. Why do you think the coaches are nervous? Prep school opens up options and thinking. It’s a big world. If you’re used to a local school, prep school is a real eye-opener for most families. If you don’t keep your options open, you’re cheating yourself out of a significant benefit of prep school. Why would you do that when you don’t have to? The second reason college coaches pick certain prep schools is that they like the prep school coach and want to help the coach out. Perhaps they have worked together in the past, are friends or were college teammates. While this could benefit the athlete, it generally does not put the athlete’s interests first.

Here’s a recent example. Allison O’Connor is a very talented athlete and student. When her father took a new job in a different state, she attended a highly regarded parochial school for one year. A very bad and emotionally trying experience there prompted the family to decide that she should attend prep school. After the year they’ve had, the family has made it clear that they don’t want to go through something like that again. They have to get it right this time, especially since the girl will be 900 miles from home. She will be entering her senior year and has already committed to an Ivy League (D1) school, turning down scholarship offers in the process. Any prep school would be thrilled to have her based on those factors alone, but she also happens to be full-pay (the family can easily write the check for the $55,000 for prep school), making her the student-athlete every prep school looks and fights for. Her college coach recommended just one prep school and it meets none of the criteria the family and I agreed to use for the school search. Specifically, the academic level of the school is significantly below the level that best supports the student, the school has no history of producing Ivy or other D1 players, the overall level of the sport and league is nothing special, the campus is below average, the geographic location is not good, and the endowment is relatively small, and the type of students the athlete would be around are not the type this child is looking for. In short, the overall environment is not a match, and there’s no objective reason for this to be on the list of possible prep schools for this student-athlete’s consideration.

Certainly there are times when taking the coach’s recommendation makes the most sense. Perhaps the prep school uses the same system, philosophy or training methods as the college coach. Maybe it’s physically located very close to the future college, allowing both athlete and coach great opportunity for interaction that will provide a big head start on their four years together. (The Hun School of Princeton and Princeton University being perhaps as good an example as there is).

There can also be other factors. For example, the athlete may be worried about offending the college coach by not taking the prep school recommendation. This could send the wrong message and no one wants to start off on the wrong foot. A simple conversation will usually relieve this situation quite easily.

As always, the choice of the best prep school should be one based on what’s best for the child and the child’s overall development, not simply on a sport. The process of picking a school should be one that minimizes risks while maximizing the possibility for success. In the reality of today’s world, where no one has enough time, most families will accept the college coach’s recommendation. Many don’t have time to go through the process the right way. Smart families will not put all their eggs in one basket. Instead, they will explore some schools in addition to those recommended by the college coach.




Don’t Laugh Too Hard

While this will certainly be funny to many, it’s just one example of mistakes commonly made by families trying to navigate the recruiting process. So enjoy the laugh, but don’t think others aren’t laughing at similar things you’ve done.

Devin is a talented basketball player. He and his mother recently told me and others he was being recruited by a good mid-level D1 school. Skeptical, I asked them to define the recruitment. They showed me an email inviting them to a reception for prospective students to be held at an upcoming basketball game at that university. What they didn’t understand, as they interpreted this invitation from their subjective point of view, was that the invitation was a mass mailing sent to many prospective students by that university in a general marketing attempt to increase applications and enrollment. It had nothing at all to do with his basketball talent or any basketball recruiting. The reception just happened to be at a basketball game because it was that time of year and basketball is the high profile sport at this particular university. They didn’t know that. They thought it meant he was being recruited for basketball. Most would have instantly seen that this was a mass emailing. In Devin’s defense, he is talented enough to get some D1 basketball interest. This just goes to show recruiting is a tough thing for most families to interpret. So remember, don’t laugh too hard. This might already be you, and you just don’t know it.



Scholarship Quantities

Many parents, especially those who are new to the world of college sports at the scholarship level, are under the misconception that receiving a scholarship for any sport at the NCAA D1 level means receiving a full scholarship. That is not accurate and it tends to be a real eye-opener, particularly to parents of baseball, hockey and lacrosse players.

Scholarship money is driven by revenue, and football and basketball are the only sports with TV contracts and attendance significant enough that they are considered to be revenue producing. Consequently, in men’s sports football and basketball are, by NCAA rule, the only ones that can offer full scholarships to each member of the team. For women, it’s a little different because they don’t play football. Like the men, they offer full scholarships for basketball (in fact, they get two more than men, 15 vs 13). Title IX requires schools to compensate for football scholarships by offering women more scholarships in a variety of other sports, including some not offered to men. This can result in certain entire women’s teams having full scholarships.



The Patriot League / Ivy League Misconception

The Patriot League and Ivy League have been linked together in many minds since the inception of the Patriot League about 25 years ago. There are three good reasons for this. One, the Patriot League was conceived, in part, to provide another league similar to the Ivy. Two, they are perceived as the two best academic D1 leagues in the country. Three, for a while they were the only two leagues in Division 1 that didn’t offer athletic scholarships. Ivy’s have never offered athletic scholarships. The Patriot League started out as a non-scholarship league, but that changed some time ago.

For some reason people, even those who should know better, still talk about Patriot and Ivy League schools as competing at the lowest level of D1 sports. They mention them as possible options for athletes who don’t have scholarship offers or are perceived to be marginal D1 athletes. This is particularly true in the revenue producing sports of football and basketball. Statements such as “well, he/she might be good enough to play at a Patriot or an Ivy” are still heard regularly. It’s an old perception that hasn’t been accurate for quite a while.

Here are two of the erroneous assumptions that lead to the misconception, followed by the reasons they are false.

  1. Schools can’t attract scholarship level athletes without scholarships
    1. Ivy League teams regularly get players who have scholarship offers. That’s right. Ivy schools beat scholarship schools for players every year.
      1. Extraordinary financial aid combined with the best educational opportunities makes the difference. Lots of schools offer scholarships. There are only a handful of Patriot and Ivy League schools.
        1. Families with a household income under $100,000 can expect to pay little or nothing for an Ivy League education.
      2. Their track record of success is so good they attract very talented athletes
    2. In the case of the non-revenue sports, these schools very often give more aid than scholarship schools. Think about how ironic that is. Why do you think they win titles in sports like lacrosse and hockey, and produce more than their share of Olympic athletes?
  2. The smartest kids generally aren’t the best athletes
    1. These schools are exceptional enough, and selective enough, that they attract student-athletes who excel in both categories

Here is just some of the evidence that Patriots and Ivys are anything but the lowest level D1 leagues.

  • The Princeton women’s basketball team is currently ranked 16th in the country
  • Both leagues are ranked comfortably in the middle of D1.
    • In basketball there are currently 15 leagues ranked lower than either the Ivy or Patriot. Those leagues include many perceived to be “better” such as the MAAC, Colonial, Conference USA, Northeast and Ohio Valley.
  • Both leagues have won more NCAA basketball tournament games than many of the leagues perceived to be at a higher level.
    • In recent years Cornell has played in the Sweet 16, while Bucknell, Lehigh and Harvard have had multiple wins as well
  • NCAA D1 basketball tournament seedings for Patriot and Ivy reflect their true level of play and talent. The leagues are getting a 12 or 13 seed, sometimes higher. That means there are about 10 – 15 leagues getting less respect from the committee.
  • Ivy and Patriot leagues have produced more professional draft picks and players over the last two decades than many of the leagues people perceive to play at a higher level.
    • In 2013 alone the Patriot League had a 1st and 2nd round NBA pick
      • Previous years produced lottery picks such 13 year NBA veteran Adonal Foyle
  • After the 2014 season two all-Ivy players transferred to other leagues. (They were out of Ivy eligibility). Both had multiple offers from big time conferences. One accepted a scholarship to Pitt (ACC), the other to UConn (AAC).

Parents and players are the ones losing out due to this lack of awareness. Too many dismiss these schools without even considering them, when choosing them should be an easy decision. When the facts are known, it’s shocking how many people pass up these educational opportunities without giving it a second thought.




Why Do a PG Year When I Already Have Offers?

People regularly ask, often incredulously, why anyone who already has offers would do a post-graduate (PG) year. The better question is, why wouldn’t you?

Asking why is a pretty clear indicator of goals and perspective. All most families can think of is getting a D1 offer. They’ve hardly considered, and have little understanding of, what happens and what it takes to be successful once you’re actually in college and playing a D1 sport.

Survival is a big part of sports at the D1 level. Everyone at that level has talent. Everyone is on a scholarship. Everyone thinks they will play. Not everyone will. Nobody thinks that will be them.

If your goal is just to get the offer, there’s no reason to do a PG year. If you want to maximize your success and get the most out of your college experience, there’s every reason. Here are the main ones:

  • There is virtually no downside to a PG year
  • You will still have all the offers and options you have now, plus five times more
  • You will get higher level offers
    • The additional year makes you a better athlete and gets you better exposure
  • You will have more choices and options, which leads to a better decision
  • You will have a better idea of who you are as a person and an athlete
  • You will be better prepared to live away from home
    • Better handle the reduced supervision and increased freedom
  • You will become a better student
    • This is true for all levels of students, even the best ones
  • You will have an additional year of education and credits
  • You will be much better at recruiting process the second time around.
    • This is one of the most overlooked reasons to PG
      • Most families are fairly clueless the first time they go through the process
      • It’s not a fair fight.
        • Coaches are professionals. If they don’t recruit successfully, they don’t have a job.
  • You will get more out of college and increase chances of success
    • Remember, you only get four years
      • Achieve higher grades in college
      • Achieve more success in your sport
  • You will minimize the risks
    • Lower risk of transfer or bad experience
    • Lower risk of failing out
    • Lower risk of sitting on the bench the first year or two, or never cracking the lineup
  • You will have a much better chance of thriving in college, instead of just surviving

These reasons all pertain to students in general. If you’re young for your grade or a student at risk (ie: a weak student, marginal recruit or received offers based more on potential than current ability), that’s all the more reason.

Why don’t more families take advantage of this opportunity? Lack of awareness, lack of patience, lack of perspective. Some don’t know the opportunity exists. Some are too impatient to get to college. Some don’t see the big picture. Ask yourself this: what is your decision going to look like when you look back a year from now?

If school and sports are really about life preparation, then this truly is an easy decision. A PG year better prepares the student for college and life after college. There’s no question about it.

If you think this is all hypothetical, consider one example. I worked this past year with a young man who said no in the summer before his senior year to the first D1 offer he received. During his senior season many schools came to look at him, some as many as a five times, but no one offered. Finally, late in the season, he received one very low level offer.

When they asked to speak with me about their prep school options, this family of very little means was worried about passing up the one offer they had.  We sat in their living room when they nervously asked me if it was reasonable to think that they might get more offers. They decided they believed in themselves and opted for prep school. Five months later they had over 20 offers. The schools that had watched him five times, and to whom he would have quickly said yes any and every day during the season, now could barely get the family’s attention with their offer. In the end, this athlete ended up jumping all the way to high level D1 and a top 25 program.

Having offers gives you leverage. Use it. A PG year reduces variables and risks. You only get four years of college. A PG year is the best way to maximize those years.



List of Top Academic Scholarship-Level Basketball Universities

The percentage of scholarship-level basketball players worldwide is very small. Most of those will not be recruited by the big-time D1 conferences, or will be D2 recruits. Players looking for the highest rated educational institutions at the scholarship level are often unaware of what is a relatively small list of choices. Excluding the power conferences, here is the list:


Division 1

It’s a given that the Ivy League and Patriot League are the two leagues with the best academic ranking.

  1. Ivy League (8 schools – Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton and Yale)
  2. Patriot League (10 schools – American, Army, Boston University, Bucknell, Colgate, Lafayette, Lehigh, Holy Cross, Loyola (MD), Navy)

Here are the remainder of the schools, outside the power conferences, based on rankings used in the Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges.

  • Air Force
  • Binghamton
  • Bryant
  • Davidson
  • Denver
  • Elon
  • Fordham
  • Furman
  • George Washington
  • Gonzaga
  • Mercer
  • Miami University (OH)
  • Northeastern
  • Richmond
  • Pepperdine
  • Rice
  • Santa Clara
  • Stony Brook
  • Tulane
  • Tulsa
  • UC Davis
  • UC Santa Barbara
  • UC Irvine
  • University of San Diego
  • William & Mary
  • Wofford

The total is approximately 44 (the case can be made for adding or subtracting one or two) out of about 268, or 16%.


Division 2

Finding an education at the Division 2 level with the same ranking is very challenging. Here’s the short list:

  • Bentley
  • Grand Valley St.
  • Hillsdale
  • Le Moyne
  • Mich. Tech
  • NYIT
  • Northern Michigan
  • Pace
  • St. Michael’s
  • Stonehill
  • University of the Sciences