How Recruiting Works
Athletic recruiting is an arduous, year-long process involving a few admissions officers, dozens of coaches, hundreds of alumni, and thousands of the nation's top high school athletes.
While recruiting procedures vary from sport to sport (see story Friday), many coaches get the recruiting process moving by reading evaluations, watching films, and traveling across the country in search of qualified athletes.
Coaches' efforts are bolstered by Harvard's huge alumni network. "There's probably no college that I know of that has a better system of alumni recruiting," Director of Athletics John P. Reardon '60 gushes. Most alumni recruiting is coordinated through local Harvard Clubs' schools committees.
Alumni are cautioned to use discretion in identifying potential scholar-athletes. "It's no good if they don't know how to spell cat,"' says Reardon.
Thousands of potential Harvard athletes are identified by coaches and alumni. Many go on to become famous at other schools; athletes like Doug Flutie were once involved in the initial stages of the recruiting process. Only a tiny percentage of identified athletes ever fill out a Harvard application, however--a process that Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett describes as somewhat self-selective.
Those who do apply are rated by coaches on their athletic ability. Athletes rated a "1" are "bluechipper," and are likely to make an immediate and significant contribution to a Harvard team. Those ranked "2" will probably make a contribution at some point, while those ranked "3" are unlikely to make a major contribution. While some athletes are ranked "4" and "5," coaches are rarely interested in them as prospects.
The ranking system, says Dean of Admissions Williams R. Fitzsimmons '67, is "a very risky business." Nonetheless, coaches are usually correct in so far as their recruits are almost certain to be the top players of the future. Few non-recruited "walk-ons" make Harvard's varsity athletic squads anymore, according to Reardon.
Prospective athletes are sent letters from coaches, admissions officials, and the athletic department outlining Harvard's athletic guidelines and urging the recruits to seriously consider the Crimson.
"I understand that you are a person with athletic achievements who might be interested in Harvard University," reads a letter from Fitzsimmons, who goes on to note that "candidates should demonstrate significant achievement in academic areas...Most of our students achieve scores on [the Scholastic Aptitude Test] in the 500 range or above."
Application forms from recruited athletes arrive at the Admissions Office with red stars. While some critics charge that such special demarcation sets athletes up for special attention, Jewett and Fitzsimmons downplay the significance of the red stars. In fact, they say, coaches are often completely unaware of athletic applicants until the Admissions Office informs them that a hot-shot high schooler has applied.
Each year, several hundred athletes in major sports visit Harvard for a weekend, with the tab picked up by a special fund contributed by alumni.
The Athletic Department recruiting budget is used for other purposes--telephone calls, letters, and especially coaches' travel. Reardon refused to disclose the amount of the recruiting budget, but commented, "We really don't spend a whole lot of money."
We're in Control Here
The Athletic Department's recruiting efforts are never the determining factor in the admission of athletic prospects.
"The most important thing is that the admissions process is controlled by the Admissions Office," says Laura G. Fisher, former director of admissions. "The recruitment process is really an advisory process."
Nonetheless, coaches are continually advising admissions officials. They call or talk to officers in person, trying to persuade the Admissions Office that key athletes are also qualified applicants.
Alumni also get into the act of trying to sway admissions officials. "You have to hope that the Admissions Committee is strong," Reardon says. "I've never seen undue influence that is outrageous. But it is a subjective process."
"Pressure? Never. Input? Yes," he says of alumni lobbying. "Pressure is all in one's mind."
As director of athletics, Reardon rarely gets personally involved in admissions decisions for recruited athletes, although he often is asked about sticky cases because of his admissions background. "I would not hesitate to talk to Bill Fitzsimmons about a great person," Reardon says.
Admissions officials say they never get any explicit pressure from superiors within the Harvard hierarchy on behalf of recruits. Such pressure, Jewett says, is "almost unthinkable."
Nonetheless, Jewett, an enthusiastic sports fan who often travels to away football and hockey games, believes that his pro-athletic bias occasionally might have influenced his decisions to admit recruited athletes. At the football banquet this fall, football Coach Joe Restic noted, "One of the biggest losses we suffered was when Fred left the Admissions Office."