Questions about college athlete applications in age of pandemic

My rising senior son has been working toward the goal of becoming a college athlete for 8 years. It’s now within sight, but there is a lot of uncertainty since his sport is one of the ones that’s been cut by a small number of colleges.
He has made a verbal commitment to one small private college, but we feel he should hedge his bets since so much is up in the air. So we want him to apply to some other colleges where coaches have expressed interest in him. Only for these colleges, he will apply just like any other student – not with the coach’s recommendation since he is committed elsewhere and would only go there if his current choice closes its program early next year.

My question is about how important it is for college applicants to have at least four courses in their junior and senior years? My son is one class (English) away from having enough credits to graduate already. He’s thinking of just taking this course and maybe physics, online, his senior year. But now I’m worried that he won’t have enough classes to meet some college’s criteria and it might be more difficult to get academic recommendation letters. Also, in his junior year he took only 3 H.S. classes, including AP Calculus, and one semester of Spanish dual enrollment college course.
We had encouraged him to front-load on high school credits while he was in middle school because we knew he’d need more time to focus on his sport in high school.

Does anyone have any idea how badly a light load his senior year might impact his admissions’ chances to private colleges (a few elite ones and some safeties). He does have a 1360 SAT and a 4.0 unweighted GPA with around 4.8 unweighted.

No one has any ideas on this topic?

If he is trying to apply as an academic student at an elite university, I don’t think it is going to look good. It may look like academics come second. Just satisfying minimum requirements isn’t going to get him into an elite school.

You said he took 3 high school classes as a junior but did he take other classes either online or as a dual enrollment through a local college? I understand having enough credits to graduate as a junior, my daughter was in the same boat but she still took a full course schedule as a junior and senior. Guidance counselors complete a recommendation form and one of the questions is about how demanding their courseload is compared to what is available and that question can make or break an application at certain schools. If most of his classmates were taking all 5 core classes as a senior and he takes one, maybe 2, the counselor may say his schedule was “not demanding”. That may be a big issue.

Eeyore123 and helpingmom40 - thank you for your input. What you’ve reported is what I had feared. Hopefully, my son’s first pick college will maintain the sports program, but we live in uncertain times.

His situation is that he is one of the top 100 nationally in his sport (tennis), but that’s not high enough to be on a team for most public colleges. Just as background, most of the players at his level do not even attend a brick and mortar high school. And most do not focus on academics even as much as my son has (who has taken some AP courses and college courses).

So he’s mainly looking at private ones since he is determined to be a Division I college athlete. There are a few colleges where his academics would stand out, so we’ll focus on those and probably skip the more competitive elite schools since he won’t have inroads through a coach. (Coaches would understand why he lightened his load in 11th grade, but admissions folks would not).

Thanks again!