Special treatment toward NCAA athletes – academic leniency, expensive equipment, heavy recruitment, etc. – is often cited as a major concern by the general public.
But while there is the widespread conception that “professional” athletes receive greater benefits than “recreational” ones, members of the UC Davis athletic department consider their recruitment program to be fairer than their collegiate counterparts.
Football head coach Bob Biggs and the 15 members of the football staff work out of offices on the second floor of Hickey Gym. Most sit at their desks watching video, crunching performance statistics, and, in the case of assistant coach Matt Wade, recruiting young stars for the future of the team.
“A part of my job is dividing the state of California into sections. Every coach has a number of schools that we call their ‘area.’ We will travel around, get to know specific coaches and recruits in that area the best we can,” Wade said.
Members of the athletic department are not allowed to talk to admissions, unlike other Division I schools, when it comes to bringing on athletes, Wade said.
The minimum grade-point average for recruiting UC Davis athletes is a 3.0 in core classes, and a 1500 out of 1800 combined verbal and math SAT score.
“The kid could be the next Peyton Manning but if he doesn’t have a 3.0, we can’t get him into the school,” Wade said.
According to data provided by Cappex, a scholarship search engine, the average UC Davis student is accepted with at least a 3.30 (B+) average and a 1500 out of 1800 combined verbal and math SAT score.
For athletes on the receiving end, recruitment is an utterly flattering practice. Michael Kurtz, a 7-foot, 190-pound UC Davis basketball player, said that there are upsides and downsides to being pursued for recruitment.
“Top schools come after you like the world would end if they didn’t have you on their team. On official visits they wine and dine you with the best they have to offer. The only drawback is fielding all the calls from coaches. It can become a lot to handle,” said Kurtz, a sophomore economics major.
This process, although admittedly complicated for both coaches and players, does not even exist for club teams like UC Davis Cycling and Hunter Jumper. While the number of walk-ons for football (20 or so out of 95 players) differs season to season, club teams consist mostly of non-experienced, non-athletic-scholarship students.
“It’s a big deal that our riders are at all levels of ability. We accept anyone, so long as they are patient enough to work with the horses and feel the sport out,” said Amelia Roland, Hunter Jumper president and senior communications and sociology double major.
Cycling president and senior food science major Mike Spady agreed that club sports rely on athletes who truly love the sport.
“Our team has a huge focus on developing riders into good racers. When we bring a novice in and train him for two to three years, he’s much more motivated to race with us versus the kinds of riders who come to us already outstanding, who don’t have much devotion or commitment to a club team and end up dabbling around in non-collegiate races.”
While the athletic department offered $6.1 million in scholarships for the 2010-2011 year, according to interim director of athletics Nona Richardson, club teams are not funded by the school besides a few thousand dollars from UC Davis Sports Clubs and the occasional grant.
Wade, Roland and Spady agreed that the argument for paying NCAA athletes a salary is a flawed one. “Passion” was the word they all used when describing their teams’ motivation for performing well, not money.
So while the media often calls for college athletes to stop serving as free labor in a multi-billion dollar industry, Wade agreed that student-athletes should be grateful for a community that fosters the pursuit of both academic and athletic excellence.
“I think that’s part of college education, and as college coaches we’re using football as a medium for teaching kids. We’re not teaching them how to read, but we’re teaching them about life, things that they’ll learn in the future,” Wade said. “Some schools do it better than others, but I think we’re the best at any level in terms of the true mantra of student athletes.”
CHELSEA MEHRA can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.