NCAA Tennis Coaches’ Views on Recruiting with a Team Website

It is clear that athlete recruitment represents an important component of collegiate athletics. For students, the would-be recruits, “selecting a college is a time-consuming and difficult process” (Kirk & Kirk, 1993, p. 55). This process, at least for student-athletes, involves the consideration of several factors, including but not limited to a school’s geographic location, its urban or rural setting, the size of its student population, the reputations of its academic and athletic programs, and its graduation rates (Kirk & Kirk, 1993).

The recruiting process, of course, is intended to shape student-athletes’ selection of a college. Despite the increasing importance of recruiting across all division levels of the NCAA (Klenosky, Templin, & Troutman, 2001), the process has received little scholarly attention. The use of unique team websites to carry out via the Internet the important coaching duty of recruiting has been nearly ignored. One examination, however, of the websites maintained by NCAA women’s cross country teams found they are being used as tools in the recruiting process (Finley & Finley, 2003). Supporting the study’s claim was the presence on websites of such content as letters to prospective athletes, NCAA clearinghouse information, and electronically transferred personal information forms. It was noted, as well, that most school websites could do far more to maximize their potential in the recruiting process, for example by supplying more of the kind of information expected to be of interest to recruits, such as coach’s philosophy, review of athletic facilities, and images of teams.

A 1998 report from the Commerce Department said that Internet usage doubles every 100 days, with more than 100 million people now online in the United States (Caskey & Delpy, 1999). Worldwide usage estimates from September 2002 furthermore suggest at least 605 million people use the Internet (NUA Internet Surveys, 2003). The Internet clearly has “evolved into a mainstream communications medium for Americans, as well as users in other countries around the world” (Caskey & Delpy, 1999, p .13).

Given the sport’s international nature, using the World Wide Web to reach prospective athletes may be of especial significance to collegiate tennis. According to Casey Angle, director of communications for the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, in the 2002–03 academic year 17% of NCAA tennis players were international students, with nearly one third of Division I players being foreign born (personal communication, June 5, 2003). Recruiting players who live overseas may be accomplished more readily with a complete and compelling website than by more traditional means. Particularly at the Division III level, for example, tennis programs have limited recruiting budgets. As Walsh (1997) describes it, “Coaches at the second tier schools recruit just as actively as the larger universities. But their recruiting budgets are smaller, and they often must play a waiting game” (p. 135). In fact, a Division III tennis program has an average annual recruiting budget of a paltry $300 (Fulks, 2000). The Internet can offer an inexpensive means of bringing coaches together with players too far away to visit. Walsh notes (1997) that, “In the non-revenue producing sports with limited recruiting budgets, coaches may be more eager for information” (p. 89).

In addition to disseminating information to prospective student-athletes, websites have come to be used for information gathering, delivering initial forms for completion by the prospect. Such a form elicit descriptions of a prospect’s playing experience, academic performance, and contact information; it is returned directly to a coach’s e-mail. Finley & Finley (2003) noted that such forms are present on over half (51.9%) of those websites maintained by NCAA women’s cross country teams, with 72% of Division III programs utilizing them.

The present study sought to better understand contemporary approaches to recruitment of NCAA tennis players by surveying their prospective coaches. The researchers were guided by three research goals: (a) to determine the extent to which NCAA tennis coaches view websites as meaningful aids in recruitment;  (b) to determine the the extent to which the coaches value electronic prospective student-athlete forms; and (c) to observe any significant differences among the responses of Division I, II, and III coaches, as well as between the responses of coaches using prospective student-athlete forms and coaches not using them.

]Method[

Participants and Instrument

The sample consisted of 232 head tennis coaches (109 from NCAA Division I schools, 50 from Division II schools, and 73 from Division III schools) who where current members of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA). The ITA serves as the governing association of college tennis and also prepares rankings throughout the competitive season. The researchers contacted by e-mail all head coaches having an e-mail address published in the 2002–03 ITA membership directory, inviting their participation in the study; approval to use the directory was granted by the ITA.

The study comprised an original exploratory study in this subject area. It employed a survey containing 13 questions for coaches whose team website included a prospective student-athlete (PSA) form, and 9 questions for coaches whose website  did not include a PSA form. The first 2 questions (for both groups) established which NCAA division (I, II, or III) a coach belonged to and whether the coach used a PSA form featuring electronic submission. Remaining questions solicited coaches’ perceptions of the value of websites and PSA forms to recruitment, using a 7-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). Table 1 and Table 2 present the survey questions, response means, and standard deviations.

Procedures

A specialist in statistical research methods assessed the survey instrument’s face validity prior to pilot testing of the instrument. A college sports information director responsible for managing an athletic program website featuring a PSA form also reviewed the instrument. Recommendations from the two led to the omission or revision of some of the survey questions. A pilot study with 7 coaches from various sports was then conducted to ensure that all survey items were clear and relevant to the research goals. Feedback from the pilot study participants enabled the researchers to enhance the items’ clarity with further wording changes.

An e-mail to NCAA head tennis coaches invited them to complete the survey online by following a web link. The e-mail informed the prospective respondents that the study intended to describe tennis coaches’ attitudes toward team websites and PSA forms. The prospective respondents were told (a) that participation was voluntary, (b) that no personal information would be solicited, (c) that no more than 3 min would be needed to complete the survey, and (d) that respondent identity would be kept confidential. The link to the survey remained active for 3 weeks after the initial invitation was sent. A follow-up e-mail reminder was sent 2 weeks after the initial invitation to coaches who had not returned the survey. The web link was designed to prevent submission of multiple surveys by a single respondent and could be accessed only by coaches who had been sent the initial e-mail invitation.

Descriptive statistics were calculated using the competitive division variables (I, II, III) and use-of-PSA-form variable. A series of univariate ANOVAs using the Bonferroni adjustment was then conducted with each of the remaining questions, to examine the relationships of competitive division (independent variable) to coach perceptions of the website and PSA form in the recruiting process (dependent variables). Student-Newman-Keuls (SNK) post hoc tests were employed to differentiate the NCAA divisions on the variables. The responses of coaches using a PSA form and those not using such a form were differentiated with t tests.

]Results[

The means and standard deviations for each question are presented in Table 1. In specific terms of their athletic program websites, the surveyed coaches all perceived the website to be an important recruiting tool, whether they served Division I, II, or III institutions. Most of the coaches indicated a belief that prospective student-athletes do use websites to select a school and that maintaining a quality website is important. Coaches who used a PSA form perceived it as a useful tool for recruiting and information gathering, but gave more neutral answers when asked if such forms gave them a recruiting advantage over programs not using PSA forms. Similarly, coaches not using PSA forms gave relatively neutral answers when asked if they perceived themselves as disadvantaged by lack of a PSA form. In general the coaches not using forms agreed that the technology would improve their chances to recruit better players.

Post hoc analysis of those questions generating significant differences during ANOVA revealed certain NCAA division–based trends in recruiting. Relative to coaches in the other two divisions, Division I coaches did not feel the PSA form effectively identified and recruited athletes or gathered information. Division I coaches who used a PSA form also perceived a relatively small recruiting advantage in that form, compared to Division II and Division III coaches who used the form. In addition, compared to the lower division coaches, Division I coaches reported less likelihood of responding to a prospective athlete who had contacted the coach via a PSA form. Coaches in the top NCAA division reported that players completing PSA forms had little chance of making a roster, as compared to the coaches in Division II and Division III. Division I coaches not using a PSA form also indicated a lesser tendency than Division II and Division III coaches to respond to players who contact them about their program.

Table 2 shows the means and standard deviations for the comparisons of the responses from coaches using PSA forms and coaches not using them. ANOVAs were also conducted to detect significant differences between the two groups’ attitudes. The analysis indicated only one significant difference, which was that coaches not using PSA forms agreed more strongly that an athletic program website is an important recruiting tool.

]Conclusions[

Although the study found some significant differences, among NCAA head tennis coaches the general trend is a perception that an athletic program website and PSA form are valuable tools in the recruiting process and that students are likely making choices based on information such websites present. Division II and Division III coaches value websites and PSA forms, for identification of potential recruits, to a greater extent than Division I coaches do. These study findings suggest how useful Internet recruiting technologies may prove for NCAA Division II and Division III athletic programs, as a low-cost means to locate and recruit prospects. Further research will need to examine how prospective student-athletes use the Internet to gather information affecting college choice as well as which website elements influence prospects most.

Table 1

Survey Items’ Descriptive Statistics, by NCAA Division, Employing 7-Point Likert Scale of 1 (Strongly Disagree) to 7 (Strongly Agree)

 

Question Division   N Mean  SD
The website is an important tool in the recruiting process.
1 108 5.92 1.23
2 50 5.58 1.62
3 73 5.56 1.17
Total 231 5.73 1.31
A quality website will help attract prospective student-athletes.
1 108 5.97 1.06
2 48 5.83 1.36
3 73 5.90 1.08
Total 229 5.92 1.13
I believe student-athletes are using information from team websites to assist in making their college choice.
1 107 5.90 1.15
2 49 5.76 1.11
3 73 5.44 1.12
Total 229 5.72 1.14
My team’s website is updated frequently to provide information that may be of interest to prospective student-athletes.
1 108 5.22 1.38
2 49 4.65 1.87
3 73 5.16 1.51
Total 230 5.08 1.54
In identifying and recruiting prospective student-athletes, the prospective student-athlete forms contribute very little to the process (respondent uses PSA).a
1 53 4.51 1.61
2 20 3.60 1.39
3 53 3.21 1.49
Total 126 3.82 1.63
The prospective student-athlete form is an important information gathering tool (respondent uses PSA).b
1 53 4.60 1.47
2 20 5.35 1.35
3 53 5.53 1.12
Total 126 5.11 1.38
Having the prospective student-athlete form gives me a recruiting advantage over schools that do not have this technology available (respondent uses PSA).
1 53 4.25 1.30
2 20 4.80 1.61
3 52 5.04 1.43
Total 125 4.66 1.44
Most players who complete the prospective student-athlete form have little chance of making the roster (respondent uses PSA).a
1 53 4.77 1.34
2 20 4.05 1.73
3 53 3.40 1.39
Total 126 4.08 1.55
I respond to players who fill out the prospective student-athlete form (respondent uses PSA).b 1 53 5.57 1.20
2 20 6.00 .97
3 53 6.21 .86
Total 126 5.90 1.07
The prospective student-athlete form begins a dialogue through which I inform players about my program (respondent uses PSA).
1 52 5.27 1.40
2 20 5.50 1.64
3 53 5.85 1.15
Total 125 5.55 1.36
Not having the prospective student-athlete form puts me at a recruiting disadvantage compared to schools that have this technology (respondent does not use PSA).
1 55 4.56 1.85
2 29 4.72 1.53
3 20 4.80 1.24
Total 104 4.65 1.65
I respond to players who contact me about my program (respondent does not use PSA).
1 55 6.38 .89
2 29 6.31 .54
3 19 6.89 .32
Total 103 6.46 .75
Having a prospective student-athlete form on my team’s website would improve my ability to identify and recruit quality players (respondent does not use PSA).
1 54 5.09 1.65
2 29 5.24 1.15
3 19 5.53 1.07
Total 102 5.22 1.43

aDivision I differs significantly from Divisions II and III (p < .003). bDivision I and Division III differ significantly (p < .003).

Table 2

Descriptive Statistics for 4 Survey Items, by Respondent’s Use of PSA Form

Question    PSA   N Mean  SD
The website is an important tool in the recruiting process.*
PSA 126 5.51 1.43
No PSA 105 6.00 1.10
Total 231 5.73 1.31
A quality website will help attract prospective student-athletes.
PSA 125 5.82 1.23
No PSA 104 6.05 1.00
Total 229 5.92 1.13
I believe student-athletes are using information from team websites to assist in making their college choice.
PSA 125 5.62 1.13
No PSA 104 5.85 1.16
Total 229 5.72 1.14
My team’s website is updated frequently to provide information that may be of interest to prospective student-athletes.
PSA 126 5.14 1.44
No PSA 104 5.01 1.67
Total 230 5.08 1.54

* p < .01

References

Caskey, R., & Delpy, L. (1999). An examination of sport web sites and the opinion of employees toward the use and viability of the world wide web as a profitable sports marketing tool. Sport Marketing Quarterly, 8(2), 13–24.

Finley, P. S., & Finley, L. L. (2003). An analysis of women’s cross country web sites at NCAA schools as aids in the recruiting process. The Sport Journal, 6(2). Retrieved October 3, 2003, from www.thesportjournal.org/2003Journal/Vol6 No2/websites.htm

Fulks, D. L. (2000). Revenues and expenses of Division III intercollegiate athletics programs: Financial trends and relationships1999. Indianapolis, IN: National Collegiate Athletic Association.

NUA Internet Surveys. (2003). How many online? Retrieved October 3, 2003, from http://www.nua.com/surveys/how_many_online/index.html

Kirk, W., & Kirk, S. (Eds.). (1993). Student athletes: Shattering the myths and sharing the realities. Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.

Klenosky, D., Templin, T., & Troutman, J. (2001). Recruiting student athletes: A means-end investigation of school-choice decision making. Journal of Sport Management, 15, 96–106.

Walsh, J. (1997). Everything you need to know about college sports recruiting. Kansas City, MO: Andrews and McNeel.

 

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