Knox faculty members unanimously voted Monday Feb. 6 to expand off campus recruiting for prospective student-athletes. If approved by President Teresa Amott and two-thirds of the Midwest Conference (MWC), the league-wide initiative would allow coaches to make in-home and in-school recruiting visits.
“It’s just another example of everybody on campus being on the same page in terms of where we’re trying to go from an athletic standpoint,” men’s basketball head coach Rob Purlee said.
The MWC is one of only several remaining college athletic conferences that ban in-home recruiting visits. Purlee thinks the policy will make Prairie Fire athletics more competitive in their efforts to attract top student-athletes.
“Let me put it this way: if you have a student-athlete who’s decided he wants to stay in the Midwest, go to a private liberal arts college and play men’s basketball, and he says. He either wants to go to the University of Chicago, Knox College or Luther College. Well, if it comes down to basketball being an important part of his decision and the coach from Luther goes and spends some time at his high school and goes to his home to sit down face-to-face for dinner with his family, and the University of Chicago does the same thing, and we don’t do that, this kid is probably thinking that Knox just isn’t as serious about him as the other schools,” Purlee said.
MWC coaches have been permitted to recruit off campus since 1999, but were limited to the “sites of competition, clinics, camps, college fairs and similar events,” according to MWC Commissioner Chris Graham.
“The fact that the MWC is the only conference in the Midwest to not allow coaches to speak with student athletes in schools and in homes places us at a disadvantage, according to some coaches and administrators,” Graham said. “And the competition for student athletes has never been what it is now.”
He also cited a large number of MWC coaches who have also served their campuses in other capacities, such as professors and academic advisors.
“The conference has always felt it was important to retain those individuals on campus to tend to those respective duties.”
The proposed recruiting policy would provide coaches with 25 off-campus recruiting days per sport per academic year. Coaches involved with more than one sport would receive 50 days per year.
Rob Cushman, football head coach at Augustana College, recruits in the College Conference of Illinois Wisconsin (CCIW), a league that’s long made home-visits to prospective student athletes.
“It’s one last push with a recruit and his parents for a coach to answer those last-minute questions and go over any details to really try to finish up the process and get some closure.”
With the attention given to National Signing Day at the Division I level, Cushman said home-visits have become something most high school athletes have come to expect.
“They want to feel it’s important, like their college decision is equal to a teammate that is signing a true letter of intent,” Cushman said.
Football player and junior Derek Mortensen is enthused by what the change could mean for Knox sports.
“I think it’s going to have a really positive impact on recruiting as a whole,” he said.
Mortensen, a prized recruit in 2009, rushed for 795 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. He received scholarship offers from several Division II schools, including Winona State University (MN) and Bemidji State University (MN), but ultimately chose Knox largely due to the persistence of former head coach Andy Gibbons, who contacted him by telephone on a weekly basis.
Still, he grasps the value of in-home visits on the recruiting trail.
“If a coach came to visit me at my house, I think I’d feel more connected to his school and more interested in what he had to say.”
Athletic Director and football head coach Chad Eisele was one of three MWC representatives to draft the legislation. At faculty meeting last Monday, he said he would request $15,000 more per year to cover recruiting expenses.
“Those are things that people we’re competing against are doing and we feel like we need to get out there and be able to do it as well,” Eisele said. “We want to get the best student athletes we possibly can and hopefully this will give us a handful more of those kids each and every recruiting year.”
If approved, the revised policy would go into effect Aug. 1.