Dan Tudor

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Do Facilities Really Matter in College Recruiting?Monday, July 16th, 2018

No, not really.

I’ve actually been making that argument for years, in the workshops that we conduct on campuses, and with the clients we work with on a daily basis.

But, understandably, not everyone buys in to that idea. I’m one guy. And, yes, I’ve got research and focus group studies we’ve done, and lots of anecdotal stories to make my point, but coaches will commonly counter with their own anecdotal stories of that one time a prospect talked about how much they loved their college’s facilities (or how much other prospects thought somebody else’s facilities were better as the reason they chose a competitor).

The result? Colleges spend big on athletic facilities. Even smaller schools have spent the past two decades ramping up their investment in mini-D1 stadiums, weight rooms, and other athletic-centered areas.

But now, in addition to my anecdotal stories and focus group studies, we have a broader study conducted recently that draws the same conclusion: Spending more on athletic facilities doesn’t result in better recruits coming to your campus.

I don’t really need to elaborate or drive home the point further, because it stands on it’s own. Facts are facts. That being said, I do want to offer some deeper explanation for coaches to consider as it relates to facilities, recruiting, and how you should view it all in the context of improving your program:

  • I’m not suggesting that facilities aren’t important. Of course they are. Safety, functionality, increased revenue opportunities for a college athletic department…all of those are true for schools that open newer, modern athletic facilities on a college campus. Plus, your fans and boosters may consider it important, as well as the student body who wants to take pride in their school. Athletics are often consider the ‘front porch’ to a college, and what that front porch looks like for the people in the campus’ family is a source of pride.
  • But it’s mostly important for the people in the campus’ family. Your recruit doesn’t usually use it as a decision making factor in choosing their favorite school, according to our research (as well as the study I’ve just mentioned). Keep your ‘family’ happy is vital, but don’t trick yourself into thinking your kids care about it when they are making their final decision.
  • It’s an emotional validation for you, Coach. This is where you spend your days. Your office might be a part of your facility. Your friends who are coaches at other campuses – the one’s who just got their new facility – are the one’s you’re really trying to keep up with. You deserve better, you want the newest stuff, and you don’t want to have to bring another recruit or booster into that old, smelly, outdated locker room. Why? Because you’re the representative of the program, and it doesn’t feel good to represent something old or smelly. Emotionally, you want the new, shiny building.
  • Facilities can be a reason they say no. It won’t usually be a reason they say yes, but a subpar facility is sometimes the reason they say no. In other words, if everything is equal – same cost, same degree quality, same type of conference, same…everything, but your competitor’s facility is newer, your prospect might choose your competitor by using the facilities as a tie-breaker.
  • That’s why it’s important to tell a better story. Give them a reason to overlook an older facility. If you don’t tell them how to think about something, like your older facility, don’t be surprised when they make-up their own story. And, don’t be surprised if it’s not a flattering one for you or your program.
  • I vote yes. New facilities for every single athletic department in the country! Just to be clear, as a former coach who’s called that old, smelly, outdated office and locker room home, I get it. This is your livelihood, and it’s important to you. You’ve seen the mountaintop at other schools, and you want your athletic department to pony-up and match your competitor’s arsenal. And I want you to have it. If I had the big cardboard check to give you for that multi-million dollar jewel of a gym you’ve been dreaming about, I would. And if you get it someday, I’ll be the first one to give you a high five…followed by a stern warning not to deceive yourself into thinking that it’s going to significantly affect your recruiting results in the years to come.

One final cautionary tale. While certainly not comprehensive, we’ve been tracking the coaching careers of those fortunate few who get new facilities. Do you know what their average tenure at those programs after they get their new facility? Two and a half years. Most are let go. Why? If I had to make an educated guess, behind the scenes, they probably thought recruiting was going to be easy now that they had their new facility. And, it didn’t turn out that way. Which resulted in the meeting not many coaches want to have with their athletic director, who tells them that the donors who funded your new, shiny stadium/locker room/weight room aren’t happy that you aren’t winning more. It happens all the time at the Division I and Division II levels, and it surprise you how often it happens at the Division III and NAIA level.

New facilities are great. But view them in the proper context of your complete recruiting picture.

The truth is, most of the time, your new facility is going to maybe get you back to even with the other school. And then, the other tie-breakers come into play. So, the important question you’d want to ask yourself isn’t “how big should the logo be at midfield on our new turf?”, but instead, “how do we tell a complete story, in a more compelling way, than our competitors?”

Facilities: Just How Important Are They to Your Recruits?Monday, October 17th, 2011

There is an important change that takes place at some point between you recruiting your prospect, and that prospect joining your team family on campus.

And the more you understand it, the more you’ll be successful at clearing some important hurdles in recruiting.

It’s a change that many college coaches aren’t conscious of as they build out their recruiting plans, and it ends up hurting their efforts to attract the best prospects to campus.  The change I’m talking about probably does more to impede the success of how a coach goes about recruiting than any other factor I have seen in many years of working with college coaches around the country.

Here’s what you need to know:

Your prospects have a change in their mindset when they come on to campus as a new recruit.  They aren’t looking for all of the same things that they were as a prospect that you were recruiting.  At the same time, once they officially become a member of your team, there are a totally separate set of things that they are now seeking…and their long-term success as an athlete in your program hinges on how you respond to those needs.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about, and why it’s important for success-minded college coaches to pay attention to it…

Our national studies show that a program’s facilities – the track, the weight room, stadium, and other areas where they will spend time as an athlete – actually factors very little into their final decision as to whether or not they accept your offer.  Yet, facilities and the surroundings are usually one of the things that a coach will primarily focus on in their recruiting; moreover, I’ve seen coaches base their entire recruiting strategy around what they feel those facilities will sell to a potential student-athlete.

However, facilities are important!  Especially when that same athlete joins your program and is now a part of the family.  When that happens, your facilities take on added importance because the condition of those facilities can directly effect their experience at your school.  Once they are on campus as a student-athlete, it matters to them because they are directly affected by the surroundings that they find themselves in.

The bottom line to the example I’m citing is that there is a change in perspective that is happening in the mind of this athlete.  As a prospect, your facilities are not going to be what finally draws them to your program; conversely, all of the facilities might be what makes them stay with your program.

The disconnect I see with coaches is that they are approaching prospects in the same manner that they are seeing their current athletes’ view of their facilities: Some coaches think facilities are what draws the athlete to their program when they are a high school prospect.

For the most part, that’s incorrect.

Now, there might be instances when facilities – or some other aspect of your program – drives them away from seriously considering you.  And a new, wonderful facility might be something that they end up listing as a smart reason to have picked your program in the end.  But in both instances, facilities are not the overriding reason for choosing a school or a program, according to our research.

There are three other big changes in perspectives that we’ve noticed taking place in the mind of student-athletes once they become athletes at a school versus just being prospects of a school:

  • The quality of the equipment and uniforms. On their visit while you are recruiting them, this is something that isn’t even on the prospect’s radar of what makes a great program that they would consider.  Once they become a part of your team, this one out-ranks facilities as something that will cause dissatisfaction and frustration.
  • The academic support that they receive during their Freshman and Sophomore years. As a high school recruit, this is something that doesn’t even enter the mind of most prospects.  And that’s understandable, since they don’t have any idea of what most college programs do to ensure academic success of their incoming class.  Once they are on campus, its something that they cite as one of the most important aspects of their early college athletic experience.
  • The social integration of the different teams and athletes within the athletic department. Did you know that this is an area that most Athletic Directors and Coaches overlook completely?  Afterall, your job is to produce winners not run a cruise ship activities calendar, right?  Yes, but I hear over and over again from your athletes that are interviewed when we fly in and do an On-Campus Workshop at schools that they wish there was more of an effort to “connect” all of the athletes within the program and across sports.  That’s something that they won’t be looking for as an incoming recruit, but it will be something that they expect once they are a part of your program.

Again, the importance of what I’m telling you exists in the way you approach each set of kids.  If you focus too heavily on these issues that I just listed with your prospects, you may not be touching on subject matter that is important to them…yet.

But if you fail to focus on them once they get to campus as one of your athletes, you can expect that you are going to have to deal with frustrated athletes who won’t be afraid to look elsewhere for other opportunities with other programs.

Facilities, uniforms and equipment, team unity and academic support are all things that can make or break the recruiting experience with many of your prospects.  The secret to recruiting success is about how a coach balances the two different mindsets between the time that their kids are prospects and when they are part of the team.

One of the easiest ways to overcome a negative facility?  Make your story more than just about the “stuff” they’ll get on campus.  As the research shows, today’s athletes are more likely to gravitate towards a personalized, consistent story told by a recruiter who knows how to talk to them.  If you feel like having a team of experts help you craft and execute that story – whether your facility is state-of-the-art or 40-years old – contact Dan Tudor directly and let him explain why our approach works better for coaches we work with around the country.

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