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NESCAC Athletic Recruiting: An Inside Look from a Coach Murphy Neutral Zone.
Our VP and Director of Scouting Brian Murphy was a hockey coach for 20 years at Tufts University with 18 years as Head Coach. He was the 2012 NESCAC Coach of the Year and led the Jumbos to a NESCAC Final Four in his last season after defeating eventual National Champion Trinity and losing 3-2 to Amherst in the semi-finals. He was on campus for the change from the old style of recruiting to the current method used today. He has been in the battle zone that is admissions hundreds of times and knows how the process works. Below is his explanation and tips for players seeking to play NESCAC hockey or other sports.
The change to a new system now widely known as the NESCAC Banding System came soon after the 2000 publishing of The Game of Life: College Sports and Educational Values. Authors James Shulman and William Bowen discussed a number of issues and questioned the admissions path historically high-achieving Division III athletics were taking in the quest to succeed on the fields, pools, courts and ice. They actually did not disparage the athlete on campus in fact they noted how often they went on to great successes in life. It did, however, get the NESCAC Presidents in a bit of a tizzy as they immediately decided to revamp the admissions program at all 11 NESCAC Schools.
I have long held and will never be convinced otherwise that athletes are amazing assets to all campus communities. I had players who competed in Alaska. Players who played at elite prep schools and studied online while riding busses across the mid-west. Their ability to compete and get to this level was extraordinary. NESCAC athletes are special and the sacrifices they made were difficult. There are very few students on campus that have gone through what these athletes went through. They are necessary and when I was in Medford, the athletes GPA always was better than the general student body. I had athletes making robots and very often helping the “self admitted” students with classes. Athlete understood time management, were resilient and also competitive between the ivy clad buildings.
When I first started at Tufts, we would simply submit a list of 20 or so players and put athletic grades on those athletes. Admissions would then sift through and take the 6-8 players that they deemed academically the best. There was generally a way to get my top one or two players but most of the rest was left to chance. It was tough to build a program that way but in 1998 DIII sports were nowhere what they are today. Very few schools had full-time coaches or 10-15 million dollar athletic facilities on campus. Now, if you don’t, you are rapidly falling behind. To speak specifically to hockey here, the level is extraordinarily high. We won games in frot of 3,000 fans. It’s popular and exciting. There is a Division II college hockey league but for all intents and purposes, DIII hockey is only a step below DI. There are no scholarships or better options between say Mercyhurst and Middlebury. There are 10 schools that play hockey in the ‘Cac. Tufts does not play women’s hockey and Bates does not play men’s hockey.
Now, we can get into what is the most interesting part. How can I use my athletic ability to help be admitted to a great academic school? Let’s take a step back. After the Game of Life, the Presidents and Athletic Directors developed a new system of recruiting pretty quickly. Essentially they decided prospective student-athletes would be placed in a “Band.” Overall, each school now has between 12-15 “C” bands each year. Considering that most schools have close to 30 sports, that is not a lot of “low” academic admits.
Schools have their “C” bands, a higher number of “B” bands and almost unlimited “A” bands. How the school divides these bands up amongst teams varies from school to school. I’d take a look at some standings and you may be able get the beginnings of what sports gets what for Bands. Some sports may only get a “B” Band or perhaps even only “A” bands while others may get six plus “C” bands. Hockey programs all have at least one “C” band.
Now, how do you utilize this information to better navigate the process of playing hockey at a NESCAC school? How can you use hockey to help you get admitted to a school that you would normally have little shot.
You MUST have copies of your transcript and testing available and in the hands of the coaches. Many NESCAC schools are now test optional and that will allow for even more flexibility to fit athletes into Bands. For example a student with a 3.8 unweighted GPA in high-level classes and an 1120 SAT would not have been a “C” at the better schools, however now they may be a “C” or even a “B” band at the higher-level NESCAC schools. Wesleyan went test optional in 2014 and won the NESCAC Championship in 2019. They have a great coach in Chris Potter and one of my favorite rinks but no question, the ability to recruit without testing helped their cause. The recent COVID outbreak has pushed schools like Tufts and Amherst to no testing at least for a few years. Take advantage of that. Strike while the iron is hot.
Send an email to the coach with ALL of your academic information. Tell them where you currently play and make it short and simple. Parents: STAY AWAY!! Let your students do this. Also, allow your son or daughter to visit the schools with little or no interference from you.
Junior players: Just because you are playing in the NAHL, NCDC, BCHL. OJHL, EHL, etc, does not mean you are well known by the coaches and they certainly do not have your transcripts. YOU should get your info to the coaches. YOU should have all your information on your phone for the ready. YOU should express interest and YOU should apply before the deadline. Let’s say you are a 3.25/3.5 NZ star 2000 born in our system, it’s possible a great DI opportunity knocks on your door. It’s also possible someone knocks at a DI school with little or no money and Colby or Bowdoin wants you in Maine. There is a real decision there: whether playing DI hockey matters more than attending one of the best schools in the country.
All Players: Apply. Yes, apply!! The deadlines are generally around January 1. Every NESCAC coach gets calls in March and April from really good players looking to go to school who recently had some DI options go away. If you have applied, there is perhaps something a NESCAC coach can make happen for you. If you didn’t apply, it is near impossible. Make sure you leave yourself options.
Early Decision: NESCAC schools all have some form of Early Decision. It is a binding decision and if admitted, you must attend. Some schools have only one round in November. Others have one in November and another in January. Most but not all of the NESCAC recruiting happens in these rounds. Schools will hold a rate or two for the Regular Decision round but it can vary year to year and coach to coach. Parents often worry about financial aid as they should. However, in the ED Rounds, all the money is still available. Do not expect a scholarship as FA is completely in the hands of the Financial Aid Office but expect all your need to be filled. There are no secret hockey deals so don’t expect a special aid package. Coaches cannot get involved per NCAA rules in any way. https://www.collegeboard.org/ is a great resource to see what your family contribution would be considered. It may surprise you (good or bad) but I once had a DI transfer on a two year scholarship who actually paid less to attend Tufts.
Apply!!!!! Apply on time, even if pursuing a scholarship at a DI school. Have a plan B. Apply to few DIII
To the Bands: Amherst/Williams are at the top of the league academically and Conn College and Trinity are at the bottom. “C” bands or even a “no admit” can be an “A” band at another school. Yes, it’s true. “B” bands differ wildly from school to school as they can be an “A” band or a “C” band at other schools. I had players labeled as “B” bands that we didn’t take that were admitted on their own. Bottom line, the better you do in school and the more you challenge yourself, the more options you will have. “C” bands clearly sit outside the general range of a school but not by a lot. Let’s say a student is a 27-28 ACT but the range is 32-34. That is very likely a “C” band admit depending on grades. If a student is a 34 with A grades, he/she is quite possibly an “A” band. However, the idea that all “A” bands are admitted is incorrect. Coaches must tip those bands as players they want. The reality of most NESCAC schools is that the ACT of 34/35-or SAT of 1450-1550 does not guarantee admission. The league has its lower level schools. However, at the top it’s like the Ivy League.
Coaches cannot tell you that you will be admitted or what band you sit in. However, if a coach is pushing towards the ED Rounds, you should ask if your application will be supported. If the answer is yes, then you have a spot but not a guarantee (it’s very good though.) If you apply ED and the coach has not said he or she will support your application, you are on your own. Admissions always and forever have the last say on every admit. They run the show.
Apply on time!!! Leave your options open!!!!
Complete the FAFSA and CSS Profile for financial aid. Do this right after or before you apply.
COVID has made the on campus visit tough these days. Generally, I’d suggest everyone visit the schools and get an idea before September where all of these places sit on your list. Remember, each year hockey is taking about 80 or so players total across the 10 NESCAC teams. Spots are limited and the sooner you can generate a general list of your schools, the better. Also, you cannot go wrong at any of these places. They are amazing and the league is successful at the highest level in all sports in the NCAA. Four NESCAC schools finished in the top ten Learfield IMG College Director’s Cup in 2018-19. It ranks success at the DIII level nationally. Williams (1); Middlebury (4); Tufts (7); Amherst (8). Keep in mind hockey is not included but it serves as a good idea of the talents in the NESCAC in all sports. Stanford took the top spot in DI.
You can visit and contact coaches whenever as DI rules do not trickle down to DIII. The banding system is not perfect and can still be exploited by schools who want an edge. Perhaps another article!! Overall, Bands work well and give coaches specific rules to work with. For those that ask about the Ivy League Academic Index and how they compare, they don’t. Ivy league schools must have an average AI. Thus a very high achieving athlete and student can help balance out a high achieving athlete but lower achieving student. Again, perhaps another article.
COVID Update: Right now coaches are relying on last year’s evaluations athletically and there is an NCAA blackout on off campus recruiting. Also, unless you live close to a school and can sneak on and do a self tour, you can’t visit the other places. Hamilton may be giving admissions led tours, but call to be sure. Coaches are doing video calls and looking at video and NZ. You still should have an idea of where you may fit best. Talk to students you know at these schools. Ask lots of questions. To be honest, they all have beautiful campus grounds, you want to be sure you have a place you would be happy if hockey went away. It’s a bit more work but in some ways it’s even more informational. Students that are there, know best.
To conclude, there are a lot of great options in DIII for athletes where your athletic ability can help you be admitted. Beyond the NESCAC there are places like Babson, MIT, Emory, Pomona, Swarthmore, MSOE, Skidmore, Suffolk, etc that don’t use the Band System but value athletics and have systems in place to help students who want to play a sport get a slight break in admission. Coaches may reach out personally to you or your coach. Do not take that lightly. That shows real interest and you always should follow through. Do not burn bridges or play games as all these coaches talk. Be smart and be diligent. Oh, and APPLY on time!!!!!
The biggest thing is to be prepared. If you are a 2000 and uncommitted and not sure of your plans, incorporate DIII into your schools. Make sure you apply and let the schools know of your interest. Keep your own completed transcripts (unofficial is OK) and think about what is best for after hockey. Communicate with your coaches and your family. Work hard, let coaches know about events where you will play. It is extraordinarily hard to be an athlete at a NESCAC school. Prepare and take your best shot! The young men I met in my time were extraordinary.
Once you graduate from a NESCAC School, you will have a network of all 11 schools to help in whatever you chose to do. You will be favored by other ‘Cac alums all over North America/ However, expect some ribbing if you lost to some athlete from an opposing school. It’s a unique league and all the athletes respect one another.
So, develop a list. Start your applications and APPLY!! Don’t stress and enjoy the process.