College sports in America represent a multibillion dollar industry. Recruiting collegiate student-athletes not only is costly for university teams, but is integral for their long-term success. Universities spend substantial amounts of money to recruit student-athletes, yet relatively little academic work has focused on understanding the athletic recruiting process. While NCAA policy regulates when communication is allowed between coaches and student-athletes, there is a lack of literature investigating what the communicative aspects of athletic recruiting entail. Thus, the purpose of this dissertation is to unpack the student-athlete experience of collegiate athletic recruitment. It builds on theoretical work from organizational and interpersonal communication, as well as management and marketing, to extend existing knowledge of student-athletes’ college choice. Specifically, a conceptual model is presented that includes how student-athletes’ expectations and relationships during athletic recruitment contribute to an overall affinity for the university that, in turn, influences choice.
Thirty Division I student-athletes from six different sports participated in focus groups to discuss their recruitment experiences. Taking a grounded theory approach to the focus group transcripts, thematic analysis illuminated what was most memorable for student-athletes about their recruitment, what expectations they had for the process, and what relational benefits they sought when making their college choice decision. Findings reinforced the prominence of communication in the recruitment process, and indicated the importance of interpersonal relationships, authentic communication, and a customized recruiting experience. This work represents the start of a scholarly trajectory which will further conceptualize and test the relational elements of athletic recruiting. Future directions, as well as theoretical and practical implications, are discussed.