Football programs across the country are struggling to recruit players, as schools are not allowed to host prospective players for visits due to COVID-19.
Official visits are crucial to recruits as they get the opportunity to visit a school, meet with the coaching staff and check out the university’s athletics facilities.
Ball State, however, has been thriving during the pandemic as far as recruiting goes, and a large part of that is due to the new recruiting coordinator, Alex Bailey.
Bailey has been an assistant coach at Ball State for six years now, mainly as a Wide Receivers Coach.
Before becoming a coach, Bailey himself was a receiver at Youngstown State from 2001-2003. Now taking over as recruiting coordinator, Bailey has made an impact immediately.
“With everyone being at home, we obviously can’t be hosting players and their families on campus,” Bailey said. “But, we are doing our best to talk to guys through virtual visits and promote Ball State the best we can, and we have had a lot of success with that so far.”
Technology is at the core of the Ball State staff’s challenge to overcome the inability to host recruits, allowing for video campus tours, walkthroughs of football facilities conducted via FaceTime and campus virtual tours in an attempt to replicate the experience of a traditional campus visit.
There’s also something to consider about the demographic of those being recruited. It’s an age now where student-athletes are more comfortable with messaging apps than phone calls, videos and graphics are essential, and programs have responded with pitches into smaller, more easily digestible chunks.
Since COVID-19 shut down campuses across the United States and the world in March, Ball State has been able to land an outstanding amount of commitments considering the circumstances.
In the 2021 class, since March, the Cardinals have landed commitments from eight players, which is almost unheard of. The players Ball State has been able to land are solid additions as well, as according to 247Sports, Ball State’s 2021 recruiting class is ranked as the No.99 class in the country. For comparison, the 2020 and 2019 classes were ranked No.121 and No.125 respectively.
Bailey accepted the promotion to recruiting roordinator back in January, when the job became available after former assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Kevin Lynch took the vacant offensive coordinator job. Bailey took the job with no way of knowing COVID-19 would strike and make his job quite a bit more difficult.
“I would say it’s just been different,” Bailey said. “Every year the recruiting landscape is different. You are always dealing with different families and players but we have tried to stay positive and work through this, and the feedback from recruits and their families has been great.”
Newly-crowned offensive coordinator and former recruiting coordinator Kevin Lynch is still helping Bailey out with recruiting, as Lynch knows Ball State and how to recruit athletes to play here, better than just about anyone.
Lynch headed the recruiting department at Ball State during the 2018 and 2019 seasons and knows Ball State is a unique place that intrigues many athletes.
“Ball State is a great sell to student-athletes, first and foremost,” Lynch said. “Our campus here in Muncie is second to none in my opinion, and with the new facilities we are adding, it is only getting better.”
Getting players on campus is the recruiting staff’s biggest strength, according to both Lynch and Bailey. However, COVID-19 has made that impossible so Ball State has taken unique routes in order to reach their recruiting targets, and clearly is it paying off.
The use of virtual visits has been key, as well as staying in constant, daily contact with potential players. University instructors and professors have joined on virtual visits to help the potential student-athlete learn more about their academic interests, too.
Ball State currently holds nine commitments in the 2021 class, with more players expected to commit soon. A normal class for the Cardinals consists of 18-21 players, so expect the 2021 class to continue to expand once recruits are allowed to visit college campuses. The NCAA has currently banned visits through July 31, but fall visits look likely.