When looking overseas, collegiate coaches must be wary of the double-edged sword that is international recruitment.
With a limited recruiting budget and a finite number of scholarships per program, most UCSB coaches restrict the first leg of the recruiting process to the confines of the Golden State. By grabbing the top recruits out of California, coaches can offer more athletes larger portions of the few available scholarships.
Pete Kirkwood, head coach of the women’s tennis team, said budget constraints limit the amount of recruiting he can do out of state.
“With us, it’s economics. We can’t afford to have more than one or two [out-of-state players],” Kirkwood said. “We wouldn’t have money left over to have the depth to win matches.”
Any player Kirkwood brings from outside of California, whether that player is from Iowa or Switzerland, costs twice as much as a Californian.
“If you were to get an out-of-state player, that’s going to cost you two scholarships, so you need to make sure that that player is going to play at the #1 or #2 spot,” Kirkwood said.
Because out-of-state tuition is so high, the amount of scholarship money allocated to in-state players is diminished, causing a backlash for recruiting strategies.
Men’s tennis Head Coach Marty Davis said that it is difficult to draw California’s top men’s tennis players to Santa Barbara.
“Our challenge recruiting-wise is that more of the top tennis kids are attracted to the traditional top powerhouses like the Pac-10,” Davis said.
A more fully funded program like UCLA, which is currently making a run at the men’s tennis national championship, can offer a greater amount of scholarship money to its players and attracts the top echelon of California athletes to its program.
When programs like UCLA exhaust the limited number of tier-one athletes, Kirkwood, like many coaches, turns his attention to out-of-state or international recruits, such as junior #1 singles player Marielle Gruenig.
“Rather than get the tier-two players, we go after someone like Marielle to remain competitive,” Kirkwood said.
The Internet has become a useful resource for finding international talent. Kirkwood found Gruenig through a global sports company contact that e-mailed him her name and information. Due to small recruitment budgets, neither Kirkwood nor Davis possess the funding to travel abroad in order to scope out potential foreign recruits. While Gruenig – an All-Big West selection for both singles and doubles – has been a positive addition to the Gauchos, the possibility of signing a player that does not mesh with the rest of the team remains high.
“When you recruit foreigners, you basically cross your fingers and hope for the best,” Kirkwood said. “You never know what you’re going to get level-wise or personality-wise. It’s pretty much a crap shoot.”
Men’s soccer Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said cultural differences between international players and Americans add another dimension to the social aspect of the program.
“The international recruiting market is a double-edged sword, especially in soccer,” Vom Steeg said. “You might be recruiting a kid that’s really good, but then practice ends and he’s over at the local bar with a cigarette in hand after training.”
Vom Steeg said because college athletics don’t exist around the world, talented athletes are forced to choose between getting a degree or going pro, which creates an interest in coming to the United States on a scholarship because it’s the only place where an athlete can also be a student.
“The kids that are writing you are really interested in academics first,” Vom Steeg said. “We’re talking about a global economy now. It’s not unusual that the opportunity to come to the U.S. and play a sport and do well in it [exists]. … It’s available now.”
The UCSB men’s soccer team had seven foreign players – most of whom are members of their respective countries’ national teams – on its 2004 roster that helped to make the program’s first-ever appearance in the national championship game possible.
“To get a player from the U.S. National Team up until now has been difficult, if not impossible,” Vom Steeg said. “The international players for us have done well, but they’re not necessarily the players that were at the top. ”
If UCSB can recruit a tier-one caliber player from outside the country instead of a tier-two player from the United States, it can remain competitive at the NCAA collegiate level while using the same amount of funds it would expend for an out-of-state recruit.