Recruiting student athletes without sports scholarships

Walk into any high school and pick out a handful of athletes and ask them what they want to do after their high school athletic careers have ended. You may get the answer of, “continue playing.” While there are a wide variety of college institutions to choose from, not all are able to give athletic scholarships; Concordia is one of those institutions.

Concordia is a NCAA Division III college and at that level, teams are not allowed the opportunity to give out athletic scholarships. The scholarships become available when a student-athlete gets up to the Division II and Division I leagues. For Concordia, they have to rely on their ability to sell the college and the academic scholarships.

“When we go out on the road for football, I typically have an idea at exactly who’s qualified academically,” said Aaron Willits, co-recruiting coordinator.

According to Willits, the football staff does their research before hitting the fields for recruiting by checking into athletes that meet the academic requirements set by Concordia and have good standings in hope that they can get a little extra from the financial aid office.

“A 3.5 and a 25 ACT I can tell them right there you are looking at a $14,000 academic scholarship,” Willits said.

Right off the bat, the coaching staff talks with the prospective student-athlete about different options so the sticker price is not so scary. In the case of junior football player Joshua Berg’s recruiting process, money was a consistent point of conversation.

“Throughout my recruiting process with Coach Horan and Concordia, he was always discussing financial aid and different scholarships that I could apply for to make the tuition not as high,” Berg said. “This was when my parents and I realized that it is not nearly as bad as the sticker price sounds.”

The sticker price can make the recruiting process for coaches at the Division III level a little more difficult than those coaches at the higher levels.

“I’ve coached at Division I and Division II, so coming here was definitely different,” said Ben Schneweis, head men’s soccer coach. “In that you have to sometimes break down a barrier because there is no athletic scholarships.”

Sophomore football player Austin Maanum transferred to Concordia back in January from MSUM. At the beginning of his recruiting process, Division III football just wasn’t as attractive as the higher levels.

“I think it was the idea of maybe a scholarship,” Maanum said. “College is pretty expensive and Division II — it is cheaper — but at the end of the day you are still going to be paying off student loans.”

Since Concordia coaches can’t offer their potential athletes money to play, they need to sell other appealing aspects. One way is getting kids to buy into the Concordia experience.

According to Willits, the football program tries to sell four things to their recruits: the four-year graduation rate, the opportunity to play, the experience to become adults and the wins and losses.

“We talk about academics. The fact that you actually have to sit with your academic advisor to get a pin number before you can register,” Willits said. “When you start getting into the 15- to 20,000-plus kid schools, if they get booted from a class they don’t have anybody. They have an advisor that has been assigned to the list of 400 kids, but they don’t have to sit down with somebody and say, this is my plan.”

The small number of students on campus means a smaller student-to-teacher ratio and for Maanum, the smaller class sizes are a huge plus.

“I’d say I’m a pretty outgoing person. I’m not afraid to say something in class,” Maanum said. “And when you have — like I think in my accounting class at MSUM there were 70-some kids in there — you know, it’s kind of tough. Whereas if you have 13 and you learn everybody’s name, it’s not as hard.”

Coaches can also have their recruits meet with faculty members in their possible majors while on campus, as part of the recruiting process, Schneweis said. That way the professor can talk about the department and the major that the student wants to go into.

“I think the academic visit with a professor in their field or fields of interest is a huge piece of how when visits go successfully,” Schneweis said. “If the visits go well they’ve usually had the opportunity to sit down with a faculty member. So that’s a huge piece for us when we talk about people visiting.”

From the beginning of the process Berg thought he might want to major in business. So during Berg’s visit to campus a meeting with a business professor was scheduled into his itinerary. He even got a little taste of the college student life when he sat in on a business class.

Along with professor visits, Schneweis has the recruits actually meet and hang out with the current soccer players. That way the prospective students can ask questions and get a better feel for the school from their peers.

“When recruits come and stay with our team and spend time with them, that’s the number one thing they talk about when they walk away,” Schneweis said.

At Concordia, since the coaches don’t have athletic money to give out, they look at the student for more than just a dollar value. They look at them as a potential player and student and look out for their best interest.

“We talk to kids,” Willits said. “If you couldn’t play football anymore we want you to know that Concordia College is the right place for you because of the academics. Because of teammates. The friends you have on campus. The location.”

According to Berg, the academics was a big deciding factor for choosing Concordia.

“I knew that I had four years of football left and after that it was on to the real world,” Berg said. “With everything I heard on my visit and from coach Horan, Concordia was going to give me the opportunities to be successful after my football career was over.”

For Schneweis, it’s the same for his soccer program.

“We want students who want to be here and want the experience we want to outline for them,” Schneweis said. “It’s not going to be for everybody. And that’s okay.”

For Berg, Concordia was the right fit.

“Coach Horan told me that one school was just going to feel right inside. If it were Concordia, great, if not, he would still support my decision. After my visit and being on campus, Concordia just felt right to me,” Berg said. “Now, about to enter my senior year, that decision I made four years ago based on feeling was the right one, and I’m so glad I made the decision to attend Concordia.”

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