Men’s volleyball Head Coach Ken Preston has never known the luxury of having too much time on his hands. Neither has the Gaucho baseball team’s Head Coach Bob Brontsema.
Since the school year began, both coaching staffs have been double-tasking; one part devoted to the team at hand while the back of their mind perpetually considers the future.
Perfecting this balance is the key to maintaining a consistently reputable program, as oftentimes the battles between schools are waged before the games even begin. These battles are more commonly known as the recruiting process.
Many distinguished coaches will concede that the key to coaching is not their philosophies or strategies or personalities, but rather, their personnel. But for many teams here in Santa Barbara, attaining and being the best is a very complex and, at times, a luck-of-the-draw process.
Next year, the men’s volleyball team will have 4.5 in-state scholarships to distribute among its players however it sees fit. The team can issue partial scholarships and full scholarships, but the amount of money must equal 4.5 scholarships. Likewise, the baseball team can break up its 9.7 scholarships in any manner it wishes to. The only sports at UCSB that are fully funded are men’s basketball, women’s basketball and women’s volleyball.
The NCAA classifies the rest as equivalency sports, but in its effort to level the playing field, these scholarship barriers make recruiting more of a financial negotiation than perhaps it should be.
“We’re out there fighting over nickels and dimes; the scholarship limits with men’s volleyball really makes you bid on a guy,” Preston said. “I’d prefer they give us full scholarships to deal with.”
What perplexes Preston even more is the fact that the women’s volleyball team here at UCSB is issued 12 scholarships, the standard for most Division I schools, while he is unable give a full scholarship to every starter on the men’s team. The disparity arises from the presence of a football team that will issue some 30-odd scholarships, causing certain men’s sports to be emphasized over others. Even though UCSB does not have a football program, it must adhere to the same scholarship regulations as other schools that do.
So with just over 30 players on a baseball team roster and just under 10 scholarships, a coaching staff’s task when recruiting may not always be to find the best guy, but to find the optimal fit. Occasionally though, a top-notch player will prioritize other elements in front of the full-ride scholarship.
Brontsema and the Gauchos found one last year in shortstop Chris Valaika, who turned out to be the 2004 Big West’s Freshman of the Year. Valaika, who had competed on several national teams before choosing Santa Barbara, was courted by several big-name schools, but chose Santa Barbara after an in-home visit from Brontsema and visiting the scenic UCSB campus.
For every Valaika out there, however, there are 50 more who will opt for a better scholarship, a closer college or a more renowned program. What makes matters even more complex for the sport of baseball is the possibility of players leaving early for the Major League Draft. Recruiting is usually contingent on the holes a team must patch up. When a player decides to leave early, a coaching staff must run around over the summer to try and find the diamond in the rough. In the past, coaches have had to work around the clock to find and sway players from all over California, but recently the NCAA implemented a new recruiting calendar to calm the fronts and bestow an equal playing field for schools that don’t have budgets for the expenses recruiting wracks up.
“I think it’s good for the coaches, so that they can have a life,” Brontsema said. “But I don’t think it will even the playing field. When you have programs that are getting national exposure on television and funding to build these grand stadiums, a recruiting schedule won’t help.”