Coaches at the Division III (DIII) level face many challenges when it comes to recruiting athletes to play for their team. Unlike Division I and II, DIII coaches are unable to give athletic scholarships, which puts them at a huge disadvantage.
Many DIII schools, like Pacific University, have to come up with different ways to entice recruits to come to their school without the promise of a free education. Pacific’s head men’s and women’s golf coach of 16 years Richard Warren is no stranger to the issues of recruiting at the DIII level.
“Not being able to give a scholarship is the biggest challenge,” Warren said. “Identifying the kids who can’t afford to go to school here is also an issue. At the local level we have five schools, just in this area, who are all after the same kids and our financial aid aspects are less appealing as opposed to other schools.”
Even though DIII schools cannot give out scholarships for athletics, they can give academic scholarships based on a student’s grade point average (GPA) and test scores. Warren noted that Pacific’s academic scholarships are typically a couple thousand dollars less than other schools in the Northwest Conference.
Brian Jackson, head coach of the Pacific men’s tennis team, has had experience at both the DI and DIII levels, for he was the assistant coach at East Carolina University prior to coming to Pacific.
“When I was coaching at the Division I level, we could simply decide whether to offer more money to a player who we really wanted,” Jackson said. “At the Division III level, this is out of our control. So, no matter how much we want a player and believe they would be great members of the Pacific community, we are often at the mercy of financial aid or need.”
The inability to give out academic scholarships is unique to the DIII level. Some student-athlete take pride in being able to say they are on an athletic scholarship, even if it is a minimal amount. This is something former Pacific Sports Information Director Blake Timm, has seen during his experience with collegiate sports.
“Many athletes in high school dream of getting that scholarship to play in college and it seems that even the smallest amount will be enough to sway someone between going to a Division III school and say a NAIA school,” Timm said. “I think many kids in the recruiting process that are given scholarships, unless you are going Division I, are partial scholarships, not full rides. That makes selling the school and the academic programs at the DIII level so much more important.”
Some athletes, like sophomore football player Bobby Ulrich, feel the coaches do a good job making players feel welcome and wanted on the team during the whole recruiting process.
“The recruiting process was super cool, you feel like a celebrity,” Ulrich said. “The coaches treat you like the best athlete in the world, and get you really excited to join the team.”
Ulrich said he came to Pacific for football and to find a place where he could have the opportunity to play.
“I looked at a lot of schools, I was talking to a lot of schools in our conference for football and a lot of DIII schools in California.” Ulrich stated. “I had full rides to DII schools but they were in South Dakota and other states in the midwest and I didn’t want to go there.”
While Ulrich’s experience was exciting and enjoyable, one current player, who asked to be left anonymous, felt coaches give special treatment to players they heavily recruit and treat others as less important. They claim this is why so many football players have quit during their time on the team.
“They finally saw the coaches for who they really were,” They said. “If you are not a significant contributor, they will put on a face and act like they care.”
During their time at Pacific, coaches Warren and Jackson have come up with different strategies in order to lure recruits to Pacific over rivals, like Linfield College and George Fox University. Part of this strategy comes from focusing on academic programs.
“What I’ve done is try to look at kids who are looking for degrees in the programs that we offer,” Warren said. “You have to go out and find an athlete who’s an exercise science major or an optometry student because those are our top programs.”
Similar to Warren, Jackson uses Pacific’s strong academic background as a major selling point to prospective student-athletes.
“We are always looking for advantages that we might have with certain types of majors, personalities, regions of the country,” Jackson said. “When we see an academic program where we feel that we can out-recruit our competition for one reason or another like a faculty that is doing great work or a unique connection to local resources, or a location of the country where Pacific has great appeal, for example, we have had success with players from Northern California, as there are not a lot of local DIII options for those players, and it is within driving distance, we try and focus our efforts. This is not unique to our program, but it is the something that we need to do to stay competitive.”