MOUNT VERNON — The recruiting process can vary from level to level and school to school. It is important to know the differences prior to beginning the process.
NCAA Division I and II are much different from Division III, while NAIA institutions are goverened by a completely different set of rules.
College athletic directors face these different challenges on a daily basis. Kenyon College Director of Athletics Peter Smith has been on both sides of the fence, and at Kenyon, there are specific challenges linked to its Division III status.
“First of all, you have to acknowledge that it is different in Division III,” said Smith. “It is quite profound. We don’t have athletic scholarships. The way a Division III coach goes about recruiting is to look at as many students as possible. Obviously, athletic talent is important, but we are also interested in the academic profile of the student. Are they a match for the school? Every Division III coach is looking for a student that can succeed academically. A lot of the schools have a requirement that students graduate in four years, so there is no redshirting.
“In Kenyon’s situation, we are looking for students that are interested in the liberal arts education. ... We attract students to campus with our small class size-to-professor ratio; none of our classes are taught by graduate assistants. That is really attractive in a discussion-based learning environment.”
Mount Vernon Nazarene University athletic director Scott Flemming has also faced challenges in the recruiting process, though being an NAIA member school, the restrictions aren’t as tough as what Smith faces. In the end, Flemming and his coaches find players in similar ways.
“We find players a lot of different ways,” said Flemming. “A lot of them come from personal recommendations from alumni, through the admissions office or friends. A lot of times, those are the players that work out the best. We spend a lot of time going to summer AAU tournaments and we subscribe to several college recruiting services. They do a pretty good job of gathering information on players. If they play for their high school team only, sometimes they slip through the cracks and we find some quality players.
“In our situation, we are looking at a few things. No. 1, they have to be talented enough to play at our level. No. 2, they certainly have to be a good fit with the Christian college setting. What happens a lot of times is we see players at tournaments or in showcases, and we start to check into their background. They have the talent, but will they be a good fit; Do they have the type of character we want to have here? That’s what we are looking for.”
Kenyon is a selective school, and Smith does not apologize to his coaches for that. They know they must work hard to bring in athletes that fit into the framework of the college.
“I’ve worked in a Division I environment and in Division III as a former coach, so I’ve had both experiences,” Smith said. “Division III recruiting is much more time intensive with so many more student-athletes that we have conversations with. For that reason, coaches work very hard to develop networking with high school coaches, and getting an idea of where they can draw from. Kenyon tends to draw from an Ohio base that is followed up with a national base of students. From there, we look at particular high schools or prep schools where students seem to know about Kenyon.
“I think what we find in our coaches is that they are looking for the up-and-comers. Division I coaches look for players that have achieved a high level, the No. 1 or No. 2-ranked recruit in the state. When you are talking about Kenyon recruiting, the coaches are recruiting students that still have athletic potential left. Division I schools will do that, but often they will go straight to the proven player, if you will.”
Academics play a large role at Division III institutions. They are not the only determining factor for admission, however. At Kenyon, well-rounded students are the norm, not the exception, and that starts with the academic requirements. For student-athletes that are beginning the recruiting process, Smith says to focus on what they can control.
“You have to shed the notion that you are an athlete and look at the academic requirements of the colleges you are interested in; you have to really make an effort to do well on the ACT or SAT,” said Smith. “For some of these students, the competition to get into the schools themselves is quite high, so they definitely have to pay attention to having calculus in high school, having a language, having a broad base of science. There are certain keys that unlock the door for college admission at selective, non-scholarship Division III schools. Those academic keys are just the same for the non-student-athletes as they are for athletes. The GPA matters, but there are more things that matter than just the GPA. Student need to show they are very well-rounded in all things.
“The fact that they are an athlete just counts toward one of those activities that make them well-rounded. (Kenyon) is looking for well-rounded students who have community volunteer experiences, athletic experiences, and participatory experiences in leadership initiatives in high school. Athletics just fits into the whole picture. Kenyon does not participate in a slot system. The student-athletes that we are looking at are viewed in the same way that a multitude of co-curricular students are looked at.”
Likewise, Flemming stressed importance of grades, but he too said there is more to a quality athlete.
“Grades are really important; you want somebody that you don’t have to worry about in the classroom,” Flemming said. “I think there is a close correlation between somebody being a very good student and the type of player they are. There are exceptions to that, but it is very important.
“The other thing that kids don’t realize is their attitude and character. If I’m at a game and I see a player back talking to a coach or giving referees all kinds of grief, that is a turnoff. I’ve walked out of gyms many times. Every kid can be emotional and every kid has his turn, but if that is any kind of pattern, it is a turnoff. Kids don’t always realize that it is not just how you play. It is how you conduct yourself.”