“What the hell are you doing? Billy! You’re steaming into a bomb! Turn around for Christ sake! Billy, can ya hear me? You’re headed right for the middle of the monster!”
– Linda Greenlaw, “The Perfect Storm”
Spoiler alert: It didn’t turn out well for Billy.
How it all turns out for college coaches, and the athletic departments they work in, remains to be seen. But make no mistake, what you and your department do over the next five years – starting now as we move through the COVID-19 crisis here in 2020 – is going to determine not only your future as a coach, but the future of the vitality of your athletic department.
Why? Because we’re facing a combined series of circumstances never seen before in college athletics:
- A worldwide pandemic that has shut down countries around the world, including the United States, and threatens to create instability for many months to come due to projected future flare-ups and the over abundance of caution on the part of government and college officials.
- The resulting drop in crowds that would normally attend college sporting events, a major source of revenue for college athletic departments around the country. If college football were to be delayed or canceled in the Fall of 2021, the economic impact across campuses could be devastating.
- A corresponding historic drop in NCAA revenues going out to athletic departments, which is causing a growing budget crisis in many departments throughout the nation.
- Due to the economic uncertainty in many homes around the country, paying for college just became harder. In fact studies are showing that many 2020 and 2021 high school graduates are now questioning whether or not to go to college. Not only is it becoming an affordability issue, it’s a question of worth: Will there be a job for them after they earn their degree that would justify the expense of an education? Will we be in a recession for years? Or even a depression?
- That same economic downturn and impact to individuals’ investment portfolios will lead to a severe decrease in their traditional financial support for colleges and athletic departments. That will likely further the economic stress that college campuses will feel.
- And, we’re approaching the graduating classes of 2025 and 2026, where colleges around the country will experience an unprecedented drop in available high school graduates who were born in 2008-2009, at the height of the great recession. The lack of new births during that two year timespan are now going to impact the available students and athletes are going to be able to recruit. This was already a major concern among the admissions departments we work with and help, and that challenge is going to become even greater in the months and years to come.
So, Coach, it’s time to get to work. The Andrea Gail didn’t make it over that wave, but you’ve got a fighting chance to significantly help your program, department and campus to get through this emerging challenge. But you’re going to have to take it seriously, and get really good, really fast, at some skillsets that many college coaches have been hesitant to embrace in the past.
You’re going to have to master the art of talking about money. Unless you’re a program that can offer a full athletic scholarship to every student-athlete you recruit, your comfort level and ability to talk about how much your college is going to cost, how they should move through the financial aid process on your campus, and the value of a degree from your school is going to be more important than ever. The cost of something, and the associated value of that product or service, comes down to the story about money we tell ourselves based on the situation we find ourselves in at the moment of a purchase decision. You’re going to have to help guide your prospect towards a decision, and justify the investment you’ll be asking them to make in your institution. This will become a major skillset requirement moving forward, and will likely be something you’ll be asked to show proficiency at during your next coaching job interview or evaluation.
You’re also going to have to consistently provide reasons they should choose your campus. We’ve beat the drum on the importance of consistency in your recruiting message as a way to beat your competition for a recruit, and justify why your campus would be the better choice overall. Moving forward, truly becoming a sales professional that doesn’t try to ‘pressure’ a recruit into a decision, but rather leads them through a decision-making process by answering questions, revealing unknown benefits that your campus offers, and overcoming their objections that are a natural part of that decision-making process we all go through when we’re about to make a major purchase.
You’re going to need to expand your fundraising abilities. Department wide, you and your fellow coaches are going to need to reach out to your immediate community, alumni and supporters in teaming-up with your advancement team on campus to not only secure new financial support, but keep as much of the existing financial support in place as possible. There has often been a hesitancy from coaches to engage in fundraising activities that require significant parts of their time; that’s going to have to change moving forward. Coaches – and all athletics and admissions employees on your campus – will now be asked to take the lead when it comes to ensuring ongoing cashflow for your school.
You’re going to have to adjust the geography you recruit from. We’ve been fans of seeing programs at all levels expand the geography they recruit from. And while we’re forecasting the importance of that strategy moving forward, it’s also impossible to ignore one of the three big emerging trends of the COVID-19 crisis: Many college students and athletes who are graduating from high school are showing signs of wanting to stay close to home. That isn’t unusual during a time of crisis, and coaches need to understand that. If your strategy involves recruiting out-of-region or international prospects, you’ll need to make sure you are explaining the ‘why’ behind your message, and justifying the reasons for truly going away to college instead of staying close to home. All of this involves a strategic understanding of where your best prospects are coming from, and focusing on those areas as your primary recruiting grounds.
That’s just a starting point for how you’ll need to approach this incredible challenge college athletics, and your campus, is now facing. Times are changing, and it’s going to demand a focused, consistent, passionate approach to your job in ways you haven’t been asked to do before. But you can do it, and come out of this not only surviving, but thriving. And along the way, developing new skillsets that will benefit you the rest of your life.
The challenge college programs are facing is a big one, and if you need a team of experts to assist in overcoming that challenge, Tudor Collegiate Strategies is ready to help. Through our affordable client programs, to training webinars and on-campus workshops, to our Honey Badger Recruiting daily training site, we’ll be able to come alongside you to create customized strategies for you and your department. Email Dan Tudor for a one-on-one conversation about the budget-friendly options we offer colleges at email@example.com. We’ll do everything we can to help you achieve your goals over the coming years, using our proven research-based strategies that have benefited hundreds of campuses around the country since 2005.