The NJCAA is not on the same playing level as the NCAA, but the junior college athletics governing body had a similar set of problems once COVID-19 hit more than two months ago.
After the NCAA canceled all remaining winter championships, including the NCAA Tournament, plus all spring sports, the NJCAA followed suit. Its crown-jewel event, the NJCAA Division I National Tournament in men’s basketball, a 24-team extravaganza contested over six days in Hutchinson, Kan., was canceled. Remaining winter championships and spring sports went with it, and like the NCAA, a ban on in-person recruiting was put in place.
On May 15, the NJCAA took a radical step in the face of COVID-19, lifting the ban on in-person recruiting, allowing schools to make their own decisions, not only with in-person recruiting, but essentially all in-person activities.
In the wake of the in-person ban being lifted, Salt Lake Community College head coach Kyle Taylor has permission from his administration to get on an airplane or walk into the home of a prospective recruit, but he hasn’t, nor does he currently plan to. In fairness, Taylor isn’t doing a ton of that, even under normal circumstances.
JUCO recruiting is more seasonal, spring and summer, while recruiting at the NCAA level, or more specifically the Division I level, is more of a year-round endeavor. To this end, Taylor’s spring in the middle of the pandemic has been quite normal despite the in-person ban.
“In the spring, March, April, May, the [NCAA] transfer portal is rolling,” Taylor told The Salt Lake Tribune. “There are just a ton of guys in the portal, so as coaches, we’re tracking names, watching film, making calls on kids, trying to gauge how good these kids are. That’s been no different, that’s what we spend our time doing. We don’t do a ton of home visits. One or two, but not many.
“Not being able to bring guys to campus, that hurt us. We have a beautiful facility, a lot to sell here, so from that standpoint, we would have loved to have a chance to bring guys to campus.”
Taylor, whose team went 29-4 and was awarded the No. 4 overall seed at the National Tournament before the cancellation, believes there are four waves of recruiting each spring and summer.
As the college season ends in March, there is a big surge of players entering the transfer portal. In April, high school players who did not or will not qualify academically for a Division I or II school begin thinking JUCO. May is when a second surge of players enter the transfer portal once school ends, and July and August are reserved for college freshmen who have gone through summer school and workouts before realizing they, as Taylor put it politely, made a mistake.
As Taylor sees it, the May wave didn’t really happen this year, but the March wave was robust.
“For everybody, these are uncharted waters,” Taylor said. “At this point, we’ve signed way more players than normally at this point in the year, and maybe we’re a little anxious. Did we sign too many too early? Now, at this point, we have to be really selective. There’s three more months of this.
“We got a lot done the last two months, but we’re going to hold on to a couple of roster spots. In theory, I could fly somewhere or bring a player to campus at some point, but there’s just nobody really in the queue right now that we want to do that with.”
While being able to recruit in-person is one advantage JUCOs have right now, another is that, while Power Five leagues prepare to allow student-athletes back to athletic facilities in a limited capacity, JUCOs are already doing that.
SLCC’s sprawling Lifetime Activities Center, which includes 5,000-seat Bruin Arena, is open to players on a limited basis. Per Taylor, he has five players in town currently, with three more due to arrive in the coming weeks. Full session and first-half summer classes began May 18, while second-half classes begin June 15.
“They want to be here,” Taylor said. “Usually, school would have ended eight days ago, ten days ago, but most guys have been sitting around for two months, so they’d rather be here.”