by Greg Carroll, Tudor Collegiate Strategies
It’s surely an overused phrase but whether on the field or court or simply across campus, great things can happen when everyone works together. We hear that a lot. We always talk about how far you can go when everyone has the same goals. It’s the absolute essence of athletics and reflects the importance of working as a team.
Maybe it was pure coincidence but over the past few weeks I’ve talked with several coaches and athletic directors about the relationship they have with their admissions department. As each conversation played out it was clear they were not aligned and were not realizing the potential for mutual gain. Some of the angst was over control of messaging while in another situation it was related to timeline control, and in another case it was about ownership of the recruit/applicant.
I’ll admit that none of this surprised me. Over the years I lived the same challenges as an athletic director and in the same way I would negotiate a “cease fire” between my staff and custodians, buildings and grounds, residence life, etc., I found myself trying to strike that same balance with our admissions office. These are extremely challenging times on campuses, particularly at smaller, enrollment driven institutions. The pressure to recruit is (and quite frankly should be …) being felt by everyone from the president in the corner office on the fifth floor to the custodial crews who interact with visitors and are on the front line of getting your campus in its best possible shape. From that perspective, yeah, we’re all in this together for certain.
Whether it were true or not, my perspective was always “I need them more than they need me.” As a result I was always looking for opportunities to be truly collaborative with other departments because doing so demonstrated my commitment to being part of the larger team and not isolated in the athletic department. And when it comes right down to it the athletic department depends on virtually every other area across campus. Think about it … If your department has a bad rep with dining, how’s that working for you? How about housing, or buildings and grounds? How does it play out for you if your program’s image is in the dumpster with campus security, and for that matter admissions?
So, to focus on admissions, there are several things coaches can do to establish goodwill with their admissions departments. First, get over yourself. No one knows better than an AD that you are paid, in part, to recruit and you have your list of prospects. But when admissions asks you to meet with someone interested in your sport or perhaps trying out for the team please find a way to do so. Because doing so is not only good for the school, it creates a window of opportunity for you when YOU need a favor. The same thing holds true at open houses and accepted student days. Not everyone they ask you to talk with has visions of themselves wearing your uniform. They may simply be a fan of your sport and could ultimately be your program’s biggest fan in the stands next year. And in addition, every student, athlete or not, contributes to the sustainability of the college and if you’re not aware of that you should be.
In most cases what exists between athletics and admissions is, to use a phrase from the movie “Cool Hand Luke” a failure to communicate. Admissions does not fully understand that the coaching staff is the primary point of contact for the recruit AND their family. The coach established the relationship by “officially recruiting” the prospect so there is a different relationship. There is a deeper level of trust. At the same time, coaches should recognize that admissions staff can be an incredible resource because they know the “X’s and O’s” of the admissions process in the same way you may know how to crack a 2-3 zone or the best way to plant your feet when hitting a backhand.
Timelines between admissions and athletics may not always be synched. That’s ok. The system can still work. The same holds true with messaging strategy. Athletes need the same information about test scores, reference letters, transcripts, etc. as the general student so they need that admissions information. But they are also looking for different things, specific to being an athlete so you need to tell those stories as well every 6-9 days. They key is to coordinate an approach so you’re on the same sheet of music.
While most admission departments have at least one person who has the title of “athletics liaison”, far too often it’s just that, a title. The individual is not a stakeholder, doesn’t attend athletic meetings, is not involved in searches, etc. Similarly, many athletic departments have recruiting coordinators on their staff but how engaged is that person with admissions office meetings where they can be informed about initiatives that could be valuable to coaches heading out on the road. If a commitment was made in both directions to make each feel welcomed and valued as a member of those respective departments, great things can happen.
Just last week I was on a campus doing a workshop and I saw first hand how effective it can be when the two areas work together. Admissions representative attended the entire workshop, engaged with me, as well as the coaching staff. And the recruiting coordinator from athletics was totally dialed into admissions software integration, acceptance timelines, messages calendars, etc. It was terrific to see the positive exchanges between the two areas.
With the start of a new year, maybe the goal of forging better relationships with your admissions staff, as well as all the other departments on your campus, can find its way onto your resolutions list.
Greg Carroll is a former athletic director and currently serves coaches here at Tudor Collegiate Strategies. If you have a question and want to benefit from his knowledge and experience, you can email Greg at email@example.com.