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The Dartmouth
June 17, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Dartmouth's most wanted: hundreds recruited yearly

Long before taking the field in a Dartmouth uniform, athletes are players in the first game of college sports -- the recruiting game. In a process that has been called "sleazy" and "manipulative" by some and "honorable" by others, coaches struggle to find the most talented candidates and make them a part of the Big Green athletic program.

From wooing the highly touted athlete pursued by coaches around the country, to hoping the talented recruit with questionable SAT scores is admitted, coaches spend each off-season working to bring in the best high school athletes and college prospects.

The search

Before coaches can start to recruit Dartmouth's future athletes, they have to determine which of the thousands of high school athletes are worth pursuing. Coaches and assistant coaches fly across the country and use a variety of sources to create giant lists of potential candidates.

"It's a year round, year long process," Women's Basketball Coach Chris Wielgus said. "We build a data base and then spend the summer weeding it out."

Currently, the women's basketball coaching staff has a data base of approximately 1,800 potential members of the Dartmouth class of 2002. The football team has a recruiting secretary who deals mainly with entering data and organizing mailings.

Head Football Coach John Lyons said the team "mass mails" to every school in the country that plays football. High school coaches are asked to recommend students who can play football at the Division I level and have the academic qualifications to compete at an Ivy League school.

College coaches and assistant coaches from all sports fill the stands at high school all-star games and summer sports camps where they can see candidates at the highest level of pre-college competition. This is the first step towards finding the handful who will someday take the field for Dartmouth.

Eric Anderson '99 was playing in a baseball tournament in Arizona -- his home state -- during November of his senior year, when he was discovered by Assistant Baseball Coach Mikio Aoki. Anderson has been the Big Green's starting catcher since his freshman year and was this year's First-Team All-Ivy catcher.

In July, when basketball coaches are first permitted to evaluate candidates who will be entering their senior year, Wielgus said coaches are constantly on the road.

"It's a time of watching students play and Fed Ex-ing information back so letters can be sent out the next day. Then standing in airports calling students," Wielgus said.

Heavyweight Crew Coach Scott Armstrong said his staff finds most of its athletes in specific areas of the country where they know there is good high school rowing. Besides New England and Philadelphia, Armstrong said the coaches travel to the west coast every other year to Seattle and San Francisco.

Sometimes coaches do not need to go anywhere to find out about an athlete. Many high school athletes hoping to gain the attention of college coaches prepare highlight videotapes which they send to schools they are interested in.

Current players and alumni can also help coaches to find prospects. Dartmouth hockey coaches found out about junior forward Charlie Retter from his brother, Brent Retter '97 -- this year's team captain.

Charlie Retter played on Toronto's top club team -- one of the best junior teams in Canada -- before coming to Dartmouth, but did not play for his high school team. In Canada, high school hockey is not as important as it is in the United States, he said.

New Men's Hockey Coach Bob Gaudet -- who coached at Brown University for more than a decade before coming to Dartmouth in April -- said current players help coaches develop "niches" where they will find players.

"If you have a kid who comes from a given school who has teammates who are eligible the following year, you can develop a network where year after year you can get players," Gaudet said. "The best ambassadors and recruiters are not the coaches -- they are the students who are here."

The Academic Index

For every new athlete who takes the field for the Big Green each year, there are hundreds of prospects who were not good enough to make the recruiting cut. As coaches pare down their databases from thousands to dozens, they use a variety of sources to find the best candidates in an entire nation of high school talent.

To narrow the field, Athletic Director Dick Jaeger said coaches look for three criteria: admissibility, athletic ability and interest in Dartmouth.

In order to qualify to be a recruited Ivy League athlete, candidates must meet an Academic Index which measures academic ability based on the SAT I and IIs -- the tests formerly called achievement tests -- and class rank.

"The Academic Index is a measure that all of the Ivies agree upon as a way of measuring the academic credentials of recruited student athletes," Dean of Admissions Karl Furstenburg said.

Each of the three factors is computed on a scale from 20 to 80 with the highest possible index being 240.

The index is determined by the average of all students at each college and varies from year to year. Dartmouth's Academic Index is among the highest in the Ivy League.

The average index of the class of 2000 is 212 while the average recruited athlete had an index of 203, according to Furstenburg.

The minimum index needed to qualify for recruitment is a 169. Furstenburg said "occasionally some students are close to that level."

An index of 169, if points are gained equally from the three factors, would mean an SAT score of 1120 and an average SAT II score of 560.

Anderson, who scored 1110 on the SAT, but whose SAT II score and class rank brought him above the minimum index, said coaches encouraged him to take tests and told him "it seemed like I would have a legitimate chance of getting in."

Screening the talent

"There is sometimes a big difference between how good a student is and how good a student athlete thinks he or she is," Jo-Ann Nester, associate director of athletics said.

Almost all coaches use game film to evaluate potential recruits. Nester said film is a good way for coaches to "screen talent."

Coaches travel around the country to examine recruits' athletic and academic talent. Nester said the NCAA allows coaches to evaluate a prospect off-campus four times by either watching them play or meeting with high school guidance counselors.

But not all coaches rely on past performance to evaluate ability.

Armstrong said a rower's high school skill level is not as important as their potential, which is measured by high school coaches' recommendations and ergometer scores.

Most coaches use a combination of past performance and potential to estimate a prospect's future success.

Former football player Jamey Lipscomb '97 said during the spring of his junior year in high school, he returned a card to Dartmouth coaches with information including his Grade Point Average, PSAT score, the weights he can bench and squat and his time in the 40 yard dash.

Early on in their conversations with high school athletes, most coaches ask questions about academic ability as they attempt to eliminate athletes who will have little chance of acceptance. They also try to find out which prospects are truly interested in attending Dartmouth

"The biggest way to select out is academics. Number two is where they want to go to school," Armstrong said. "We don't want to support anyone who isn't sure Dartmouth is their first choice, and we're frank with kids that are interested but probably can't get in."

The chase

Talented high school athletes are bombarded with letters and phone calls from coaches hoping to draw their interest. Recruiting rules are pushed to the limit as coaches try to make their college every recruit's top-choice.

All contact with prospects is tightly regulated by both NCAA and Ivy League rules which limit the type, quantity and timing of interaction.

NCAA rules call for dead periods during the year -- like around the national letter of intent signing day -- when coaches for specific teams are not allowed to contact students. "Our life is defined by the NCAA calendar," Wielgus said.

Starting in September of an athlete's senior year, college coaches are permitted to call them at home once per week. Nester said coaches keep a log of the times they call candidates to make sure they do not violate the rule.

Lyons said each Dartmouth football coach is responsible for calling 10-15 prospects a week. With a coaching staff of almost a dozen, more than a 100 potential football players are called weekly.

Since there is no limit to the number of mailings coaches can send, highly-touted athletes may receive piles of recruiting letters.

The football program, which recruits more athletes than any other sport, sends 15-20 mailings each year and Lyons said a recruit will usually receive a mailing every week to 10 days.

Wielgus said the women's basketball coaching staff uses a two-prong approach to recruiting athletes: a "shotgun approach" of sending information to everyone in the database and a "rifle approach" of going after the recruits they really want.

Coaches will often send handwritten letters to top-prospects. Some recruited athletes said they enjoyed the attention.

"It's very flattering," squash recruit Lauren Sykes '99 said. "It's an ego-boost when a coach really pursues you."

Nickerson said a coach from Pomona College called him four times a week and he was offered recruiting visits by five schools.

Each candidate is allowed to take an official recruiting trip at five colleges. Coaches are also limited in the number of students they can give official paid visits -- 70 football recruits can make an official visit.

On a visit, which can span 48 hours, each recruit is paired with an older member of the team. Most visits feature meetings with coaches, and a team dinner and get together.

Getting them in

Anderson said he does not think he would have been accepted to Dartmouth if he did not play baseball. But being on a coach's priority list is definitely an advantage in the admissions process, according to many recruited athletes.

After coaches narrow down their databases to a select few, they create lists which the admissions committee use and factor into the decision making process -- although the extent to which they affect the decisions is a matter of debate.

"I know how hard it is to get in without support," said Armstrong, who submitted 12 names to the admissions committee last year. "The kids on our list do a lot better."

Armstrong said he thinks "a rowing kid" with an SAT score of 1200 is unlikely to be accepted. "That's the bottom minimum," he said.

However, at least in some other sports, 1200 is not the minimum.

Charlie Retter said his SAT score was "around the thousand mark" and said he would not have gotten into Dartmouth if he had not been a recruited athlete.

"That's just being realistic," he said. "Hockey is what gave me this experience."

But not all recruited athletes believe their academic credentials would not have been enough to get them accepted to Dartmouth.

Lipscomb, who scored a 1300 on the SAT and had a 4.0 GPA, said he "would like to think" he would have been accepted even without football.

Throughout the application process, coaches are in contact with the recruits. Coaches are allowed to share "probabilistic language" with the candidates once they are given the authority to do so by the admissions committee, said Robert Ceplikas, deputy director of athletics and the coaches' liaison to the admissions and financial aid office.

Coaches are allowed to tell athletes -- in the same way the admissions office occasionally tells nonathletic "superstar" applicants -- that their status of admission is "likely, possible or unlikely," Ceplikas said.

"A letter may say the status for admission to Dartmouth is likely -- which means we expect to offer admission," Ceplikas said. "They haven't been admitted yet, but in 99 cases out of a 100, the likelys turn into accepted."

Is athletic talent different?

Nickerson, whose SAT score of 1440 places him above the College average, said he thinks he would have had a chance even without baseball and does not think athletes are treated differently than students with other talents.

"It's just another extracurricular thing you have going for you," Nickerson said. "If you are a world-class pianist, that can get you in too."

While Furstenburg said candidates nonathletic talents are also considered, he said only athletic teams and the drama department are permitted to submit priority lists.

He said other members of the Dartmouth community -- such as professors -- can send letters of recommendation to the admissions committee which will also be considered.

Ceplikas said all talents are considered. But he added that athletic talent is somewhat different, because the quality of athletes recruited affects the well-being of the athletes already at the College.

"We have a responsibility to make sure that we put the right framework in place that enables Dartmouth's athletes to have a reasonably good experience in athletics," Ceplikas said. "That means putting talented athletes on the field next to them."

Furstenburg said all students admitted "have to be capable academically," regardless of their athletic ability.

"Athletics in the Ivy League is still about true amateurs and student athletes," Furstenburg said.

Furstenburg said the admissions committee does not make special exceptions for athletes that they would not make for regular candidates.

For example, basketball forward Sean Gee '00 said he did not turn in his application until early February -- more than a month past the Jan. 1 deadline -- but Furstenburg said athletes are not the only candidates who are permitted to turn in late applications.

"We take a lot of applications after the deadline," Furstenburg said. "We take them up through the first week in February for any applicants."

Making the list

Since coaches are limited in the number of athletes they can place on the priority lists, Ceplikas said a large part of his job is making sure the coaches are steadily narrowing down their list of recruits.

At the beginning of the recruiting process, each coach submits a written overview of their different needs to Ceplikas, he said. The overviews explain what holes will be left by graduation and what positions the team needs to fill.

"We come up with a general assessment of where they need to focus their recruiting efforts," Ceplikas said. "We give our coaches a fair amount of latitude as to the number of candidates on their lists."

The size of each coach's list, however, varies greatly.

While Lyons said he is allowed to submit 70 names of football players to the committee, Armstrong said he was only allowed to submit the names of 12 rowers. The differences are reflections of the number of positions on the team.

In the early stages of the process, Ceplikas -- who worked in the admissions office for 11 years -- examines candidates' transcripts and advises coaches on the admissions chances of the athletes.

"We don't have the luxury of resources to spend the time, energy and money on recruits that aren't going to go to Dartmouth," Ceplikas said. "I help coaches to be as efficient as they can be."

In addition to submitting their priority list, a coach is able to verbally explain their rankings to the committee.

"Within our list of 12, the numbers one through three might be awesome candidates and the number four a level below," Armstrong said. "Admissions is receptive to verbal explanations of how good the kids are."

Although all coaches agree that being put on a priority list will help a candidate's chances, recruited athletes have no guarantee of admission.

"They give us feedback, but they don't let us bargain," Armstrong said.

The recruiting game

"Recruiting is kind of sleazy to be honest. It's a big game," Wielgus said. "The entire process is very manipulative. Everybody manipulates everybody."

Since coaches from many different schools are pursuing the same athletes and are limited in the number of students they can put on their priority lists, they must try to determine which students will make Dartmouth their first choice.

At the same time, a candidate who wants to get into as many schools as possible may tell more than one coach that their school is his or her top choice. Wielgus said some coaches will lie to recruits about their priority list rank to encourage the candidates to apply.

"They tell us that they are coming and then go someplace else. Coaches are telling them they are number one on their list and then they don't get the scholarship," Wielgus said. "We have to just watch what they do and not listen to what they say."

Wielgus said there is a sense of competition between Ivy League women's basketball coaches. She cited the actions of Princeton coaches during Dartmouth's recruitment of freshman standout Courtney Banghart.

"When Princeton coaches saw Courtney play, they did not want her to come play for us," Wielgus said. "The Princeton coach called around to scholarship schools to see if somebody had a scholarship to give Courtney so she wouldn't come here."

Princeton coach Liz Feeley denied Wielgus' story and said she would be "amazed" if coaches from any school engaged in that type of recruiting competition.

"That's definitely something we wouldn't do," she said.

Wielgus said she does not compare priority lists with other Ivy League coaches, but in some sports coaches from rival schools are in constant contact.

Armstrong said in the rowing world, "There is some sense of friendly cooperation between Ivy League coaches."

Ivy League rowing coaches work together to help recruits get into the best school possible, Armstrong said.

"It I find out a kid isn't going to get into Dartmouth, I'll call his second choice school and say 'he's all yours,'" Armstrong said. "I think there's a sense of honor in it that way. We're not trying to steal each others recruits to the point at which they'll end up at some state school."

However, Armstrong said coaches will sometimes compete for a recruit who both schools are interested in. He said if a candidate is desirable and more than one coach thinks they have a good chance of getting him, they may both decide to pursue him although they will risk using a spot on the priority list for a student who decides not to attend.

Gaudet said hockey coaches in the ECAC also keep in contact to help recruits go to the best school they will get into.

"If a kid is going to get nosed out, you still want the kid to get an Ivy League education," Gaudet said. "If that means he'll be going to Harvard, then good for him. You don't want to hurt anybody's ability to get into a school."

According to Gaudet, there is not much negative recruiting in the ECAC and coaches rely on the strengths of their own schools to bring in players.

The squeeze play

Since the College's need-blind admissions policy covers all applicants, athletic recruits receive no special treatment from the financial aid office. Ceplikas said that makes it difficult for Dartmouth to compete with non-Ivy League Division I schools which are allowed to offer scholarships to varsity athletes.

"One thing which our coaches are very much aware of, is that we face a very special challenge," Ceplikas said. "We have to compete with non-Ivy schools which offer scholarships to the same athletes we are recruiting. That is a reality our coaches have to deal with."

Recruiting by scholarship schools also changes the recruiting process by frequently forcing the admissions committee to look at a recruit before they normally would.

In women's basketball, there is a Division I early signing date in November. At that point, candidates who have scholarship offers from other schools will frequently use 'the squeeze play' and ask Dartmouth whether or not they will be admitted.

The admissions office then uses the information that they have and tell the candidate if they are likely to be admitted. Because of the squeeze play, Wielgus said the basketball staff was finished with recruiting in November.

Ceplikas said the squeeze play exists in all sports where there are athletic scholarships, although it affects some sports more than others.

Although there are official signing days for each sport, Ceplikas said coaches at scholarship schools have figured out ways to "beat the system" and force students to make commitments months before the deadlines.

Scholarship school coaches use verbal agreements and tell recruits that they will offer the scholarship when the deadline comes, but only if the candidate makes a verbal commitment well before the signing date, Ceplikas said.

"The sanctity of the early signing period is meaningless," Ceplikas said. "We have to respond when a recruit is put in the position of having to respond to a verbal offer."

Ceplikas said when a recruit tells Dartmouth that they have been offered a scholarship, the College admissions committee must act immediately, or risk losing the candidate. However, Furstenburg said the Dartmouth admissions office must have a scholarship offer from the other school before the applicant can be considered a squeeze play candidate.

Ceplikas said one squeeze play occurred this year in September (the candidate was told he would likely be admitted), but said even squeeze play candidates are expected to submit the full application.

"We just hope it doesn't get so early that eventually they'll be getting offers before we even finish making up our application," Ceplikas said jokingly.

Wielgus said the squeeze play sometimes causes problems because not all recruits are finished taking their standardized tests by the early signing date.

"The squeeze play allows the student to make a pretty good decision as to their future," Wielgus said. "It's good if the kids qualify. It isn't so good if they haven't taken their tests."

Furstenburg said the admissions committee occasionally has to make decisions on squeeze play candidates who have not submitted full applications. No applicant is considered without the SAT I, counselor recommendation, essays and transcript, Furstenburg said.

Of the approximately 25 squeeze play candidates a year, Furstenburg said 40 percent do not submit SAT II scores.

The early signing date for football is in February, which is when Lyons said the team gets most of its admitted athletes.

By Ivy League rules, the football team can average a maximum of 35 admitted recruits per year. The average is measured over a four year period.

Lyons said last year seven or eight recruits were accepted early decision and most of the recruiting was done by February. He said there were "probably a half dozen or so" priority list football players who were rejected by the admissions committee.

Like football, the number of basketball and hockey recruits admitted are regulated by Ivy League rules.

Basketball can average no more than 32 recruits per year and hockey can average no more than 40 per year.

The prospect's choice

By the time they are on a coach's final list, most recruits have decided that Dartmouth is their top choice. How they come to that decision, however, is different for each candidate.

While many athletes, like all students, come to Dartmouth because of their overall impression of the school or its strong academic reputation, others decide for reasons specific to athletes who must consider what they're athletic experience will be like. Nickerson said he chose Dartmouth over Cornell, Harvard, Princeton, Pomona College and other schools because he "wanted to play right away."

This year, as a freshman, Nickerson started every game and was named Ivy League Rookie of the Year in addition to winning First-Team All-Ivy honors at the shortstop position.

Jacque Weitzel '00 and Sykes said their impressions of the lacrosse and squash coaches respectively, made them choose Dartmouth over Princeton -- the other Ivy League school they both considered.

"I wasn't really a huge fan of the coach at Princeton," Sykes said. "That was a big factor."

Gaudet -- whose hockey team competes in the ECAC against both scholarship and Ivy League schools -- said Dartmouth's academic reputation is something that brings athletes to the College despite the lure of scholarships from other schools.

"We point to the success that graduates have, whether they be athletes or non-athletes," Gaudet said. "It's not like you're selling a one-way street."