Going overseas to recruit tier-one-caliber players can be a game of Risk. Balancing the financial and procedural burdens of recruiting internationally with the potential benefits for their teams is the latest in the long list of tasks laid out for collegiate coaches each year.
Men’s soccer Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said that the allure of international recruits is their high level of play coupled with a low level of competition with other universities to sign them.
“The problem is that a kid from Arizona might get recruited by 75 colleges and a kid from New Zealand might not get recruited by anybody,” Vom Steeg said. “The recruitment strategy is like most coaches; we try to recruit the best athlete available for the money we have.”
Men’s basketball Head Coach Bob Williams, who has not had a foreign player on his roster since 2001, has expanded his recruitment strategy to outside of the U.S. Williams signed Australian Tom Garlepp earlier this month.
“I went over there and watched [Garlepp] work out and recruited him while I was there,” Williams said.
The major problem in recruiting foreign talent lies in the professional market overseas. The NCAA mandates that eligible players must be amateurs and cannot have received money to compete.
“There’s a huge problem with that. We have not recruited international kids that we have not made the trip to go see them play, and that’s where most coaches and programs fall apart,” Vom Steeg said.
Men’s tennis Head Coach Marty Davis said that tennis programs with smaller recruiting budgets must rely on blind recruiting and the honor of the worldwide tennis market.
“You have to be sure that you do enough research,” Williams said. “Australia is a country that has great structure around their basketball development, so with that structure it’s easy to find out what kids have and have not done. If you don’t have that structure then it’s hard to know.”
However, such structure is not consistent throughout the world.
“A lot of problems come with people playing on club teams,” Davis said. “Team tennis isn’t very common. The only way they can be professional is if they played in a tournament.”
German men’s tennis players, however, have stirred up some controversy. Teams like UCLA and Baylor, which are both currently in the final championship, have a number of German players on their roster.
“There’s been a lot of accusations, but there haven’t been any major penalties that I know of,” Davis said said. “There’s concern over some German tennis players because that is a country where they do have club or team tennis. There’s a level or two of German club tennis that has been deemed professional by the NCAA.”
While tennis has yet to see any major penalties for ineligible players at the NCAA level, men’s volleyball has seen the effects of recruiting foreign athletes who had previously played for professional clubs. Hawaii’s 2002 national championship was revoked due to player ineligibility.
Men’s volleyball Head Coach Ken Preston said that there is a problem with international players in men’s volleyball due to the blurred lines between amateur and professional status abroad.
“The problem is the definition of a professional team and who makes the definition of a professional team,” Preston said. “The NCAA accepts each federation’s definition.”
Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic continue to be the places U.S. coaches recruit from the most.
“They have a pro league in Puerto Rico that the kids play in and it’s been deemed illegal to play in,” Preston said. “The Dominican Republic is not defined as pro, yet the kids get paid. There’s a big problem in that the NCAA doesn’t have the manpower to go out and see for themselves.”
Preston said that international recruiting is a growing trend in men’s volleyball, due to the advantage foreign players have over Americans because most foreign athletes begin training for volleyball at a younger age.
“It’s not a great influx right now, but it will get more and more [popular],” Preston said.
Preston said that, although it would be beneficial to have one or two international players on his roster, he is not looking to recruit out of the country anytime soon.
“Men’s volleyball only has 4.5 scholarships, and it’s my opinion that the majority of those scholarships should go to American kids,” Preston said. “It almost becomes a mercenary-type deal.”
Women’s soccer Head Coach Paul Stumpf also limits his recruitment to the United States.
“I think some of the best players in the world are coming out of America,” Stumpf said. “The only thing that the international kids have more of is that soccer is more a part of their culture. It’s deeper in their culture and their education.”
Vom Steeg said that international players bring a different work ethic to a team of Americans.
“They’re great in the locker room. They bring such a different cultural experience to your team,” Vom Steeg said. “They bring the intangibles.”
Despite the appeal of recruiting internationally, Santa Barbara coaches maintain that their priority is to get the best talent for the scholarship money available.
“The advantage [of international recruiting] is to get the best athlete you can get from wherever you can get them,” Williams said. “If you’re in a situation where you happen to get the good local players and you land the best players in the region or in the U.S., then going to the international level wouldn’t be important.”
As the international market for recruitment continues to grow, the downside remains apparent. Recruiting internationally is a risky money pit, but it is slowly becoming a necessary means for remaining competitive at the NCAA Division I level.