Building a Team: Division III Recruiting in Rural Ohio
Published: Thursday, April 19, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 01:11
Anxiety-ridden high school seniors might imagine the scene in Ransom Hall when Admissions considers their applications. Perhaps collegiate people in tweed jackets sit around a conference table, tallying up AP classes and frowning at ACT scores. For prospective athletes, such deliberation, on the part of Admissions, actually begins before a formal application is even submitted.
Admissions usually engages in what is known as a “pre-read” of prospective athletes. Pre-reads determine which students Kenyon will recruit to play sports.
Admissions officers typically look at athletes’ full junior-year transcripts, their ACT and SAT scores and lists of their senior-year courses before they even receive a full or finished application. If a prospective athlete doesn’t seem to meet the academic standards required for future Kenyon admittance, “Admissions will be upfront with coaches, so that [the coaches] can concentrate their recruiting resources elsewhere,” said Associate Director of Admissions and liaison to the Athletics Department B. Noble Jones.
Once coaches begin to wrap up recruiting, they use a ranking system based on athletic talent to give Admissions an idea of a prospective athlete’s skill level and how valuable that athlete would be on a particular Kenyon roster. Admissions uses a similar ranking system, involving grades assigned by faculty, to assess students with talent in music or studio arts.
“Sometimes you can get stars in your eyes,” Jones said, referring to the temptation to admit students for extraordinary athletic prowess. “I’m a competitive person. This is my alma mater, and I want to win.
At the same time, talent on the field cannot trump academic rigor.
“First and foremost, I don’t want someone to come and have a bad experience because they’re not prepared for the rigors of the classroom,” Jones said. “I think the worst thing we can do as an admissions office is to send somebody home after a year or semester … to face their community as a ‘failure’ because they weren’t able to cut it.”
Pre-screens for athletes explain the disparity between acceptance rates for athletes versus non-athletes. Last year, Admissions admitted 1,429 students out of the 4,272 who applied, a 32.7 percent admittance rate. In contrast, the five-year average for athletes is 311 admits out of 612 applications, a 50.8 percent admittance rate.
Because Admissions provides coaches with an indication of an athlete’s academic standing, coaches will discourage athletes who will likely be rejected on academic grounds from applying to Kenyon, and thus the pool of athlete applicants tends to be more qualified than the pool of general applicants, according to Jones.
A higher percent of accepted athletes accept their admissions officers than accepted students generally, which helps Admissions predict class size more accurately. Athletes are also more likely than non-athletes to remain at Kenyon, perhaps because of their relationships with their coaches, according to Jones.
“Our boss Jennifer [Delahunty, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid] likes to say that we [Admissions] work hand and glove with the Athletics Department, with regards to recruiting,” Jones said.
In recent years, Division III recruiting has intensified.
“When people think of a coach they just think of someone blowing a whistle to get an athlete to run faster or to lift more. Recruiting is actually around 75 percent of what we [as coaches do],” Assistant Track and Field Coach and Recruiting Coordinator Craig First said.
Each individual sports team has its own recruiting budget, which varies between roughly 5 and 10 percent of the team’s overall budget, according to Smith. Teams use much of this money to travel to large events and showcases where they can observe many athletes at once.
“There’s this misconception that we don’t recruit,” said Suzanne Helfant, head women’s basketball coach and senior women’s administrator. “If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be allowed to be competitive. We have to recruit nationally.”
Another misconception, according to Helfant, is that Kenyon is not restrained by any recruiting guidelines. The NCAA [National Collegiate Athletic Association] does impose restrictions on Division III recruiting, but these are not as stringent as Division I and II restrictions.
A prospective athlete cannot participate in an official visit to a potential college until his or her senior year of high school, though unofficial visits are unrestricted, according to Division III rules.
Official visits cannot last for more than 48 hours and occur when a college pays for an athlete’s transportation, meals or any entertainment besides admission to a home game.
Prospective Kenyon athletes can participate in any college-wide admissions program and can receive the same travel grants that non-athletes are eligible for.
“Most of our visits are termed, by the NCAA rules, [as] unofficial visits,” Smith said.
A coach cannot engage in in-person, off-campus contact with an athlete until the athlete’s junior year of high school. There are no restrictions, however, on when coaches can begin sending recruitment materials, including mail or emails, to prospective athletes.
Division III requirements also prohibit Kenyon from offering athletic scholarships and from providing preferential financial aid to athletes.
The only non-academic scholarships Kenyon offers are for music and studio arts, and to receive these scholarships, students must submit a supplementary application. Kenyon does not offer scholarships for “leadership,” though other Division III schools sometimes give leadership scholarships to athletes.