(Editor’s Note: This is the second installment of a two-part series examining the impact of international student-athletes on the local collegiate scene. Last week’s column examined some of the players in Mobile County.)
The recruiting and signing of student-athletes from around the world is a very unique skill. A questionnaire was sent to the athletic directors at the three local colleges – Spring Hill’s Jim Hall, University of Mobile’s Joe Niland and USA’s Joel Erdmann – that asked how they deal with these international players.
What are some of the special difficulties in recruiting international athletes?
Niland: The NAIA has cleaned up some of the old issues with regards to international student-athletes, who in the past had played at maybe a level equal to, or higher, than what is college level here in the U.S. So not as many internationals are coming in at an advanced age, both chronologically and athletically. With the NAIA Eligibility Center and NCAA Clearinghouse, it has cleaned up that whole process. The visa part is always difficult, because every country’s embassy can be run a little different. Since September 11th, there is much more scrutiny on the student visa process and rightful so.
Hall: The biggest difficulty with recruiting international students for SHC involves transfer students and getting the necessary transcripts, and then standardized evaluations of those transcripts so that we can institutionally process eligibility. Incoming freshmen are fairly easy when it comes to eligibility. The NCAA Eligibility Center makes the determinations with regard to freshman eligibility and amateurism certification for all internal athletes (freshmen and transfers). As a Division II school, we rely on the partial scholarship model. Finding international athletes who have the required talent and the ability to pay for some of their education is the most difficult part of recruiting international athletes for us. Many of the best international athletes are looking for full scholarships, so as a small school with a partial scholarship model, our coaches really have to do their homework and find those athletes whose families value the superior education and environment offered by a Jesuit institution and are willing to pay for some of the cost of attendance.
Erdmann: In the contemporary world of recruiting – whether domestic or internationally – the process is essentially the same. Coaches develop systems, contacts and networks that assist in identifying those prospects, who are academically and athletically able to succeed. The NCAA Eligibility Center has a fairly straightforward process for assisting institutions in verifying the academic and amateur status of a prospect. Visas have not been a significant issue.
What are some of the advantages of having international athletes on the roster? How does it add to the school’s status, especially if the athlete returns home to represent their country in international competition such as the Olympics, World Cup or Davis Cup?
Hall: The primary benefit we see from international athletes involves enhancing the diversity of culture on our campus. International student-athletes bring a broad range of perspectives and experiences to our campus and our American student-athletes and general student body benefit significantly from their presence on campus. They really contribute to the institution’s efforts to give all Spring Hill students more of a global perspective on issues.
Niland: International students add greater diversity to a campus, by exposing U.S. students to other cultures and ideas. We also can impact international athletes in our culture, specifically here at UM, where we have a Christ-centered culture. In the past, we have had former UM athletes represent their countries in both the World Cup and the Olympics, the two biggest sporting events in the world. That says a lot to what we have done here at UM and how our coaches have contributed to player development: Preparing student-athletes to compete at the highest level.
Erdmann: International student-athletes tend to be highly skilled athletically and academically. Their occasional participation internationally representing their home country does bring a certain level of notoriety.
What process do you follow to confirm amateur status?
Niland: Both the NAIA and the NCAA now have specific guidelines, and it has cleaned up that question for the most part. If that club team is at a level of competition equal to or better than the U.S. collegiate level, it is counted as a season of competition for each season an international competes after one calendar year past their high school graduation. This is regardless of whether they receive compensation. Compensation is a whole other issue and that is whether they are determined to be a professional, which makes them ineligible.
Erdmann: All prospects are vetted through the NCAA Eligibility Center. Additionally we perform a level of background search and due diligence in this area.
Hall: All international student-athletes must register with and have their amateurism status certified by the NCAA Eligibility Center.
What do you say to people who claim international athletes are taking away a scholarship from an American athlete?
Erdmann: I think it is fair to say we recruit as close to home as possible in all our sports, as is demonstrated by examining our rosters. But when unable to find and secure the type of prospect, which allows us to be successful, we explore options regionally, nationally and internationally. Recruiting internationally is not unique to collegiate athletics; it continues to evolve in professional athletics and most aspects of business and commerce. We truly are living in a global community.
Niland: Times change and the world we live is changing constantly. I can see taxpayer funded colleges and universities being scrutinized for using state funds for international athletes, but you could also use that same argument for recruiting out of state student-athletes to state-funded institutions. We all compete in a global economy now and whether it is student-athletes or engineering students, our young people have to realize that. They need to be prepared for that environment and be ready to compete in the changing world.
Hall: I don’t think this is an issue. There are plenty of opportunities for American student-athletes. Unless all American institutions were to no longer enroll international students, I don’t think there is any way to logically say that we shouldn’t have international student-athletes on collegiate teams.
Please address any other issues that you feel need to be brought to the public’s attention.
Niland: The majority of international student-athletes that come to UM are much more prepared academically and have a greater sense of purpose to what a college education means. Despite cultural and language barriers, they overcome these obstacles because of that great sense of purpose. It always amazes me when an international student will say, “Coach, the U.S. kids don’t realize what a great opportunity they have.”