A: Hard to say, could be a little bit of both. Coaches invite potential recruits they want to do more evaluations on, and players they are actively recruiting to camps. But yes, coaches and especially Camp Directors are numbers-oriented, with the goal to fill the camps up. A sign to decode their invite: are you hearing from them otherwise—Junior Day invites, gameday invites, are you receiving recruiting mail?
In my years organizing a Top 25 camp, each summer we would invite players who had media or scouting buzz, who once we got on campus we realized weren’t a good fit for what we were looking for. We also had players who we’d never heard of show up and play their way into getting recruited, some players who eventually went on to be offered scholarships.
If a coach emails or mails you an invite to camp—that’s a good sign, it means they’ve heard something about you as a possible player and want to get to know you better. If they call or personally invite you to camp, that’s a great sign—they may have a better idea about your talent and are probably evaluating you for a scholarship and deciding if you fit their needs for that position and recruiting class. If you are also receiving other recruiting information from them, they have some level of interest.
If the coach invites you but isn’t having much other contact with you, yes, they may just be trying to get players to sign up for camp. There are a couple other reasons why they may not be in contact. Depending on your grade, you may be too young to contact. Secondly, they may not know much about you, and getting you into camp will give them a chance to evaluate you better. They are getting a feel for your attitude, your position-specific skills, speed, size, how you handle coaching, your competitiveness, if you hustle—they’re getting several potential recruits on the field, and able to make better decisions about who they will likely actively recruit, and who doesn’t fit their needs.
Due to NCAA rules, coaches aren’t able to extend the offer why you are on campus at camp, but your performance and attitude at a camp may confirm their decision to offer you a scholarship shortly after you return home from camp. Yes, camps can be expensive when you add up the registration fees and transportation to get there. Many players can’t afford it, and that’s okay. Camps are a great way to get noticed, but not your only way.
If you can go the summer before your senior year, that’s good. If you can go the summer before your junior year, even better.