The Only College Fencing Recruiting Thread You Need to Read

Whatever interpretation anyone can draw from this trial, I think it surely weakened any future case against coaches who are willing to profit off of the recruiting system. Colleges will think twice before applying COI policy and firing those in question and coaches now gained knowledge on how to profit without getting criminalized. Sooner or later there will be cases in which a coach circumvents the college policy as well.

Maybe the fencing industry is seen just too small to spend meaningful social expenses on and expect any tangible impact. I suspect that it must be why they didn’t even bother to put any competent prosecutors on this case.

I really don’t see this as the “get out jail free card” you seem to read into the case. It was by all appearances a poorly decided case. Not sure I would totally go off on the prosecutors either. The jury was presented with communications evidence wherein Brand wrote “His boys don’t have to be great fencers. All I need is a good incentive to recruit them”, and that the older son would be his “no 1 recruit (as long as) my future (is) secured.” If the jury didn’t convict on that, I’m not sure what the prosecution could have done better. However, the severe risks to prospective perpetrators remain. Prosecutors don’t stop pursuing cases because they lost one. Colleges are very strong in their determination to protect the reputation of their institution. The conflict of interest issues and enforcement evident in the Brand case surely remain. Any coach who thinks the path to unjust enrichment has been illuminated by the Brand case should have his head examined. Brand and Zhao could have easily ended up incarcerated. As it is, the loss of job and reputation are pretty devastating, particularly to Brand.

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Could we please discuss various fencing programs and, more specifically, their culture, supports, reputation, expectations on the academic/fencing balance, the type of the student fencer who will thrive in the environment, etc? I am cognizant of not trying to pierce anyone’s anonymity veil, so let’s agree to assume that anyone’s knowledgeable response does not mean that their child is/was a member of the team. Anecdotal evidence is more than welcome. And, yes, I understand that one fencer’s experience does not mean that my fencer will have the same experience.

Some of the programs I am interested in are:

  1. Columbia
  2. UNC
  3. Duke
  4. Yale
  5. Notre Dame
  6. NYU
  7. Ohio State
  8. Penn State
  9. Princeton

Thank you

What a great topic…thanks for bringing up. Can we add in Cornell, Northwestern and Stanford to the mix?

I’ll comment with observations having gone on visits with my daughter this year. Her big questions had to do with team camaraderie and as parents we asked about academic support.

In general comparing state schools to IVYS and private Liberal Arts (my son was at one)- the state schools we have talked to have a lot of academic support for their athletes with study halls, meeting with advisors regularly, tutors, etc. My son fenced at Haverford and loved it but no extra academic support. Daughter at Brown, said the same thing re athletes.

UNC- positive for both team camaraderie and academic support.
Planned team events- bowling, dinner, etc, Nice center for studying, will give you tutors if you ask, meet with academic advisor regularly.

Ohio State- positive for both team camaraderie and academic support. Team has social events, team has lunch together after am practice M-F, team study hall and a lot of academic support meeting with advisor regularly. 100% graduation for athletes and working on 100% graduates to have a job or placement into grad school.

Both schools the kids were happy and seemed to have a great academic/fencing balance. Also, the coaches were very aware of their kids academic results and wanted them to thrive in both areas (as oppose to at the home club where fencing comes 1st lol). Both schools also had nutrition stations, physical therapy, trainers. In general they meet your every need!!


Fencers and their parents who went through the recruiting process: was the process fair to you? did you see anybody or club association may have received unfair favoritism? not necessarily to the level of varsity blue or Brand… did you do anything about it?

Just went through it. I don’t know if there is actual favoritism between clubs and colleges but it is very common for club coaches who also coach at colleges to recruit the fencers they know. There’s definitely relationships with club coaches and college coaches that have been built over the years. If you want to PM me maybe I can answer specific questions and share a bit about our journey.


It has now been several years since we went through the recruiting process. For us the process was undoubtedly “fair,” but our fencer was the top recruit in his year. There is no question that certain clubs have relationships with certain schools and there is a lot of overlap in hats that coaches wear. Think back to when Buckie Leach (RIP) was both the foil coach at Notre Dame and the Women’s Foil National Coach, including at the Tokyo Olympics. Aleks Ochocki, the Women’s National Sabre Coach, was also at Penn State and is now a sabre coach at Notre Dame. Akhi Spencer-El, the Men’s Sabre National Coach is also the sabre coach at Columbia University. Greg Massialis, the Men’s National Foil Coach, owns one of the most successful foil clubs in the country. And there are other such overlaps. But, IMHO, it still comes down to talent. I am not saying there is not a leaning toward recruits coming from certain clubs or coaches, but, for the top recruits and the most competitive programs, the talent has to be there. Frankly, where I found myself giving pause usually had to do with a less elite fencer with extremely wealthy parents who was suddenly a recruit at a top program. To be clear, I am by no means pointing to a “Varsity Blues” scenario, but I am sure that contributions to the fencing team and/or to the school were somewhere in the mix. It is also true that some recruiting is at least slightly less about talent and more about academics to balance out a teams AI. All in all, it is an imperfect system, often rife with conflicts of interest. But I still believe that the best programs seek the best fencers and that talent is the ultimate edge.

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I think the most difficult ones are the ones on the “edge”. Those are probably the ones suffered the most to the relationships and favoritism. If you are a top top talent or a very long shot, you probably won’t feel it.
It’s a gray area, but at the cost of some hard-working, more deserving kids. I wonder if its simply because the colleges are not aware of these. Hard to believe they are allowing this.

I think for those on the edge, it is all the more important to have a broad range of target schools, remain openminded, and to at all times be ready to commit. Whether or not there is favoritism or anything untoward in recruitment, the goal remains to get into the best possible school for the student’s particular needs and desires. Fencing is always an add-on. It has been posted more than a few times on this thread - Imagine being at any school on your list if you are not fencing and consider whether or not you still want to go to that school.

Define “more deserving”.

It is threads like this one that have made the fencing recruiting process more transparent and democratic.

Sounds like you have an axe to grind.

Please share.

My previous comment was not meant to be confrontational.

When @sevendad, @brooklynrye, @sherpa and I started this thread in 2016, it was a reboot, and intended to provide followers with transparent, yet confidential insight into the arcade world of college recruiting for the sport of fencing. Given its longevity, I think we have succeeded to some degree, and I hope people continue to find it helpful/useful.

As I mentioned to @brooklyrye and @sevendad this morning, true learning comes from hearing about both the good and the bad outcomes. In fact, the bad outcomes can provide cautionary tales that give parents the extra incentive to cross all the T’s and dot all the I’s when securing a commitment for their fencer.

Given the number of people who have posted, and PM’ed us over the years, it is possible if not likely, not all recruiting journeys have turned out the way all have hoped. It is a shame that these stories are not shared so others can learn.

With regards to perceived favoritism/unfairness, I offer two examples:

  1. Our son could not seem to get an email response from the coach at his first choice school. It was particularly frustrating as lesser fencers (and their parents) seemed to be on a first name basis with this coach at NACs. We later found out that due to this coach’s limited english skills, he did not answer emails, but answered his phone can was approachable at competitions. Was our inability to connect with this coach favoritism or lack of knowledge/effort?

  2. A friend of our son (in a different sport) told everyone he had committed to a most prestigious Ivy. When I congratulated his mother, I mentioned that we did not disclose our good news until the LL was received. She asked what a LL was. It turned out her son took the coaches, “you are on our list” to mean more than it was. The question of “does being on this list include LL support?” was never asked. In this case it did not and this kid would have been disappointed had his mother not asked the question at the 11th hour. This kid ended up being recruited at a different yet similarly prestigious Ivy with LL support. Unfair or uninformed?

It is my hope that @MDhopefuldad shares his experiences so others can learn.


I don’t think “unfair favoritism” is much of a thing. The reality is that all coaches share the same goal, to build the best possible team while avoiding fencers who they feel, rightly or wrongly, might bring undesirable baggage to the team dynamic.

One college coach might be biased toward a particular club or club coach, another might only look at the national rankings. Yet another might heavily rely on recommendations of those currently fencing at the college.

Are these preferences “favoritism”? I don’t think so. To me, it’s just coaches acting in their rational self interest, trying to build the best possible team with limited and imperfect knowledge, whereas favoritism would imply that a coach would recruit someone other that the best possible prospect. I don’t think that happens often.


I don’t have anything concrete to share, admitted it’s all personal feeling/speculations.
It’s a gray area as we all know it. While I do believe most play in this area, there are clearly individuals who may have a different agenda, ie the one who was just acquitted a few months ago.

I agree with the points that @sherpa and @superdomestique made. The process may feel opaque (as with college admissions in general) but it is not helpful to assume that anything untoward or nefarious is going on. The coaches are looking for the students that will benefit the team, and that might include factors such as whether the recruits may be good fits in ways other than their fencing ranking (Will they be good team players? Are they at risk of getting black carded because of their behavior on the strip?). Importantly for the academically rigorous schools, they need to meet – or exceed – academic standards. For some schools/coaches, this is why one fencer may be recruited over others and you won’t know about any of that (you may think your fencer meets the standards, but maybe someone else’s is better).
I really think it is most helpful to assume best intentions.
And I am one of those who is also a strong advocate (and don’t mind repeating it over again) of students thinking first and foremost about which school(s) is/are going to be good fits for them regardless of fencing (or any sport). There are many excellent schools and many opportunities, fortunately!


I thought this was a good article…