Cal State East Bay baseball team leveraging networks, virtual resources to recruit pandemic-era student-athletes
During any ordinary year, the month of March for baseball coach Grant Kukuk would involve leading the Cal State East Bay team through practice in the morning, then heading to a nearby junior college or high school in the afternoon to watch and scout prospective future Pioneers.
But this is no ordinary year.
With the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown's anniversary just last week, Kukuk is among hundreds of coaches across the country who have had to adjust their annual spring recruiting plans.
"Usually in the spring, we'd be following up with the people we saw in the fall, seeing who would be a good fit … you see what progress they've made and weed it down," Kukuk said.
In general, teams scout upwards of three times the number of players they need to fill openings on the team. This means, in the COVID-19 era of limited to no competition, coaches in the area have had to get creative and have built a sort of ad hoc player pipeline of who-knows-who looking to transfer or attend a four-year university and play baseball.
"In the fall, we were watching a lot of videos, a lot of reading through emails [from potential players] and there are some recruiting services that reached out, but you just have to rely on your contacts to give you a report of who they have," Kukuk said.
But there is some hope on the horizon.
High school athletes in the East Bay were allowed to return to practice earlier this month. Many junior college teams have said they will create competition pods with peer institutions in the same county so players will experience some competition.
So while things are not yet back to normal, Kukuk said in a way, students being forced to hold themselves accountable for their workouts instead of a traditional season of in-person coaching and games has been a sort of litmus test of how badly an athlete wants to play at the collegiate level.
"It's been hard, but I think some have taken this challenge as a glass half full and seen it as a good time to learn about themselves," Kukuk said. "Everybody says they're a hard worker, and this is the time that we find out who actually is."
Last fall, Cal State East Bay was the only school in the conference to hold baseball practice, something Kukuk says will be an advantage in recruiting this spring.
"It shows how much our campus, our athletic director, and our president back our student-athletes,'' he said, adding he's looking forward to the even further return to play expected this spring. "There are some kids that we've recruited that haven't even been on campus, but this spring, we'll have a little more freedom to scrimmage, share equipment, and … they'll be able to meet the rest of the guys."