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Building a Team: Division III Recruiting in Rural Ohio

By Sarah Lehr

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 doesnt 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 athletes 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. Im 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 dont want someone to come and have a bad experience because theyre 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 werent 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 athletes 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 teams 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.

Theres this misconception that we dont recruit, said Suzanne Helfant, head womens basketball coach and senior womens administrator. If we didnt, we wouldnt 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 athletes 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 athletes 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.

Students dont get admitted to Kenyon just because theyre athletes, Jones said. But, if you had two identical students, which I dont think ever happens and one had an athletic hook that the other student didnt have, the student with that hook would likely receive an offer should we only have one spot left.

Kenyons academic reputation draws athletes, but academic standards also limit the pool of recruits.

Our [academics are] so competitive in comparison to all the schools we compete against, with the exception of Oberlin [College], that we lose out on a lot of students looking within our conference, Helfant said. We dont give out a lot of merit scholarships either.

Cost can also deter prospective athletes. Kenyons yearly tuition for 2011-12 averaged $52,650.

Particularly in light of the economic recession, oftentimes the bottom line is the bottom line The sticker shock oftentimes just scares people away, Helfant said, Trying to reel them back in and getting them to understand the value of this place has become more and more difficult not that its not worth the value, because it certainly is.

Kenyons high tuition also affects the types of sports it can recruit from.

A lot people hate this [distinction], but you have so-called blue collar sports, like football, basketball and baseball, and then white collar sports, like lacrosse and soccer. It seems that Kenyon attracts more athletes from sports that more affluent kids participate in and sports that tend to be offered more at prep schools instead of public schools, Helfant said. I think football is by far the most difficult sport to recruit for at Kenyon by far in part because of [Kenyons] cost.

Football at Kenyon requires around 60 or 70 players, and recruiting is more difficult for larger teams. Teams like tennis or basketball that require fewer players, probably would be more focused in their recruiting, Smith said.

It also tends to be easier to recruit for successful teams. Kenyon football suffered 23 consecutive losses last season. In contrast, mens swimming and diving placed second at the NCAA Division III championship and the womens team placed fourth. Mens tennis is an Elite Eight team, and womens basketball made it to the semifinals of the North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC).

Kenyons rural location poses another recruiting challenge. Smith said Kenyon recruits against schools that try to capitalize on urban environments, such as Denison University (which ties Granville, Ohio to Columbus) and Washington University in Saint Louis.

First encourages prospective athletes to visit campus. Especially if theyre from the East Coast or California, they think the Midwest is just a bunch of cornfields, [but] they come here and they see the campus is so much more, he said.

It certainly helps when your college is considered the most beautiful college in the world, Smith said, referring to a 2011 Forbes ranking.

The site of the six-year-old, $70 million Kenyon Athletic Center (KAC) might similarly impress prospective students.

Although the KAC makes a strong statement when students visit, Jones said, it hasnt really been the closer [in students decisions about whether to come to Kenyon], in the way a lot of people hoped it might be.

Helfant urges prospective basketball players to interact with Kenyon students. You can listen to me give a presentation, but Im obviously very biased about the program and want to sell it, she said. For me, our student athletes are our best and most honest ambassadors.

First praised students treatment of prospective athletes. Hats off to the student body, because high school athletes tell me how friendly Kenyon students are to them, he said.

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