What’s in a game?

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During my career at the University of Dallas I’ve come to learn several things about UD’s athletics department. The most glaring is UD’s perennial struggle in every sport to win on a consistent basis. It did not take me very long to figure out the very obvious answer to the question why was it so hard for us to win games. The answer was that a team is only as good as its players, and getting good players and keeping them has proven an incredibly difficult feat at UD.

In my curiosity, I set out to find out why it was so difficult to recruit and retain athletes at UD. I spoke to several coaches on the subject, while it definitely varied from team to team on the reasons why recruiting and retention were so difficult, there were also a number of common themes.

Unsurprisingly, the highly rigorous academic standards UD holds its students to is the first reason why it is difficult to recruit and retain players. Any student who is considering coming to UD must be deemed capable of handling the academic demands they will encounter at UD. For example, men’s soccer head coach David Hoffmann said that rarely will he look at a potential recruit who doesn’t exceed a 3.5 high school GPA and an 1100 SAT score.

The second most common reason was the cost of attendance at UD. While many teams in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) have comparable costs of attendance, UD’s is still one of the highest of schools in the conference across the board with only Colorado College being substantially more expensive than UD.

Another common reason on UD’s recruiting difficulty is UD’s small staff. Of the 15 UD athletics teams, only baseball has a permanent full-time assistant coach. Only having one coach puts a huge restriction on coaches’ abilities to go out and recruit since one person cannot be everywhere simultaneously. Volleyball head coach Kelli Trautmann said having an assistant would allow her to have more eyes to scout at big tournaments, and give her the ability to send an assistant out to scout local talent while she coaches practice.

Another reason was brought up by recruiting coordinator Matt Grahn. UD has to try to recruit nationally on a local budget. With the sheer amount of Texas schools it becomes highly competitive to recruit Texas athletes. This competition can be illustrated by showing other SCAC schools’ demographics on their student population as the other five Texas schools, Trinity, Texas Lutheran, Austin, Schreiner and Southwestern all have 75% or greater attendance by Texans whereas UD’s ratio of Texans to non-Texans is close to 50-50. This necessitates going out of state to recruit athletes, but without the financial resources to do so this becomes impossible.

There were less consistent answers about why it is difficult to retain athletes. The only common answer was that the reasons vary from athlete to athlete. There was also a varying range on retention difficulties. For example, Coach Hoffmann mentioned that he has never found it difficult to retain athletes [in soccer] as opposed to track and field, where this year’s roster will be 90% different from next year’s roster. One of the big reasons track and field head coach Matt Barber attributed this lack of retention to were the study habits developed students in their freshman year. Coach Barber said that if a student is able to develop good study habits and time management, then being able to handle extra activities like sports becomes no problem.  However, bad study habits and time management tend to make the student feel overwhelmed, and the first thing that goes is sports.

Every coach I spoke to resoundingly answered “recruiting” when they were asked what was more difficult between recruitment or retention, and according to men’s basketball coach Jarred Samples, recruiting is the single most difficult part of the job. It cannot be overstated how important having good players is to a team’s success. Let’s face it, the 1990s Chicago Bulls would not have won six NBA Championships without Michael Jordan. All of this illustrates that sports are far more involved that what you just see on gameday. The battles that you see on the court, field or track begin long before the actual game begins. They go on year round in things like training and recruiting. UD probably faces more challenges concerning athletics compared to most other schools. All that can be asked of any of UD’s coaches is to do their best, in spite of the challenges, to put together a winning team.

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