Down But Not Out

NCAA recruiting hopes to recover with Measure 68

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UC Santa Cruz swim coach Kim Musch said he lost a potential of 40 promising incoming student swimmers in the last few years due to the threat of losing NCAA sports at UCSC. This uncertainty expanded beyond swimming, affecting all NCAA coaches as they were forced to search for athletes willing to commit to a school that may lose sports partway into their college careers.

Measure 68, which will fund NCAA sports for the next 25 years, passed last week. This means elimination is highly unlikely, but the program is still overcoming the damage four years of uncertainty caused.

Illustration by Anna McGrew and Owen Thomas
Illustration by Anna McGrew and Owen Thomas

“We lost a lot of recruits that in the past we probably would have gotten here,” Musch said. “We were always a top 15 team at the NCAA [championships], but then particularly in the past five years, it’s been very difficult to get that quality kid out of high school.”

Division III coaches at other schools used the uncertainty to recruit against UCSC by casting doubt on UCSC’s dedication to student athletes, Musch said. Coaches hope this reputation will begin to fade as Measure 68 funding kicks in. Yet Musch argues this perception of a lack of commitment to athletics from the university won’t go away easily.

“I know that coaches are out there saying, ‘Oh you don’t want to go to UCSC, you never know if [it’s] going to keep sports,’” Musch said. “We think of it now as, ‘Okay, we’re set,’ but in order for word to get out and undo the damage, that’s a two- to three-year process. All the high school coaches have to start throwing UCSC back in the mix.”

According to several NCAA coaches, recruitment for the 2017-2018 school year was especially difficult. Knowing spring 2017 was the deadline to pass a referendum, many prospective athletes steered clear of the program.

Women’s soccer coach Emily Scheese said the team is losing nine senior players next year and only three new members committed for the 2017-18 season. She had to turn to open tryouts and recruiting from UCSC’s club soccer team to complete her roster.

“This year we did things not the usual way because of the circumstances we’re in,” Scheese said. “But we ended up getting some great players and personalities by different means.”

Even with funding secured, NCAA athletics face unique problems at UCSC. It’s also the only UC with a Division III program, making it the only campus restricted from giving athletics scholarships per NCAA Division III rules. While other Division III schools work with admissions to ensure a spot for qualified athletes, UCSC prospects get no help from the admissions office in terms of guaranteed or preferred admission.

“The kind of athlete we’re recruiting is a special kind of person,” Scheese said. “They will have probably above a 3.8 GPA and a lot other positive things on top of being a good athlete. In general, you’re looking at a very focused population.”

Athletes often commit to UCSC because of academics and other aspects of the school, not just athletics. Coaches make sure recruits generally want to come to UCSC for both the athletics and the campus offerings. The athletics program hopes to create a stronger relationship with admissions in the future. NCAA coaches and the admissions office met as recently as this quarter.

“All other universities’ admissions in Division III work with their athletics department[s]; ours is the only one [that] does not,” said women’s basketball coach Todd Kent. “That being said, […] admissions is very supportive and [is] trying to find a solution, so we are all very excited about the potential.”

With stability from the measure and an additional funding commitment of $500,000 annually from the chancellor, the program will begin to recover. Although Measure 68 only guarantees a foundational amount of funding, coaches will now shift their effort away from simply saving the program and redirect their concentration on building their teams.

“The uncertainty has taken a toll on a lot of our coaches but since this measure passed, I have a renewed energy, I have a renewed commitment to what we’re trying to accomplish,” Kent said. “I feel like I did when I got hired. Let’s get back to work now that we’re fully funded and we can go after that national title we want so bad.”