The price of talent

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By Sports Editor Sean Tepper

Every year, thousands of high school athletes receive DVDs, pamphlets, phone calls and e-mails from coaches hoping to lure young talent to their university.

While it only takes a few moments for a prospective recruit to sign a university’s formal letter of intent, the process that it takes to get that player`s signature on the dotted line is slow and time consuming at the best of times.

“In the coaching business you never get any time off,” says Roy Rana, who is in his sophomore season as the head coach of Ryerson’s basketball team. “People think that when your season is done… coaches go golfing in the off-season. But recruiting never ever ever stops.”

Despite budget cuts, self-imposed academic regulations and Ontario athletic scholarship restrictions, Ryerson University is serious about developing an ultra-competitive athletics reputation and is focusing on player recruits to revive the once dead program.

Like most of Ryerson’s Canadian Interuniversity Sports (CIS) coaches, Rana is quickly learning that recruiting is a full time job.

“Recruiting starts with talent identification,” he says. “Before you start to recruit [someone] you have to watch a lot of players and decide if he fits in your program. There is a lot of research involved.”

When he is not running practices or coaching his team through a game, Rana can be found in his office, where he will either be sitting at his desk staring at his brightly lit MacBook, on the telephone getting inside information from high school coaches, or texting prospective players on his Blackberry. However most of the time he does all three simultaneously.

“I’m [already] looking at kids that will graduate in 2015-2016,” he says. “We need to project [now] what we will need at that time.”

According to CIS rules, universities are allowed to give students a full athletic scholarship that covers the cost of their education for as long as they play varsity sports and meet the school’s academic requirements. However, under Ontario University Athletics (OUA) rules student athletes are only allowed to be given $3,500.

That means Ryerson has to work even harder to sell themselves to perspective student athletes who are able to leave Ontario for full scholarships.

Beyond the scholarship restriction, Ryerson’s biggest recruiting roadblock is self-imposed. The university doesn’t accept any student athletes with an average below 80 per cent.

Budgetary restrictions at Ryerson also challenge coaches like Rana. Every CIS team at Ryerson is given a recruiting budget, which varies from team to team. After coaches present a proposal for their budget to Ivan Joseph, the school’s director of athletics, it’s up to the coaches to allocate their funds as they see fit.

Repeated attempts by the Eyeopener to retrieve the recruiting budget were unsuccessful. Both Joseph and all of the coaches interviewed for this article declined to comment on how much or how little they receive for their team.

“I would never give it up [but] I can tell you that it’s more than a dollar and less than $5000,” Joseph says.

Joseph also refused to provide the Eyeopener with individual teams’ recruiting budgets.

“We would never give it out; it would give a significant advantage of our competitors over us.”

While Joseph is adamant that the budget is enough to “get the job done”, Canadian universities have a significantly lower budget to recruit players than their U.S. counterparts.

“Your budget will dictate how far you can go,” Rana said.

“I’ll go into the heart of Africa if I have to. I’m willing to go wherever I need to go. But unfortunately that’s not the reality, I don’t have that charter plane that I can jump onto to recruit a kid.”

Coaches say technology has helped them make better use of their budgets.

“Just e-mail alone has changed the style of recruiting,” says Stephanie White, the head coach of the women’s hockey team, who uses phone calls, text messages, e-mails and YouTube videos to help with recruitment.

“We can do a fair amount of work without having to leave [Ontario]. It helps you lower your recruiting budget.”

Dustin Reid, the head coach of the women’s volleyball team, has already traveled across the country in hopes of recruiting some of the top female volleyball players in Canada. Although his budget doesn’t cover all of his travel costs, Reid says he will do whatever it takes to build a strong team.

“I was hired to build a volleyball program that will [help] the school’s reputation,” he says. “If I’ve got to find a way outside of [our recruiting budget] I’ll do it.”

Graham Wise, the head coach of the men’s hockey team, never has a moment to himself, even when he goes to watch his son play hockey. Jamie Wise is a left winger for Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors and even when his father shows up to watch him play, he is scouting out the rest of the talent on the ice.

“I can kill two birds with one stone,” Wise says. “There are a lot of players in OHL that we are interested in. The thing is that it’s such a competitive environment that there are several other teams talking to these kids as well. You just gotta touch base with them, watch them play and keep in constant contact with them until they say that they are not interested or they want to pursue applying [to Ryerson].”

Under the watch of former athletics director David Dubois, who was fired unexpectedly in 2008, Ryerson’s men and women’s volleyball, basketball and soccer teams along with the men’s hockey team had a dismal 151-397 win-loss record between 2004 and 2007.

Ryerson’s athletic history has forced the university to use its new facilities and academic programs to sell potential players on the idea of becoming a Ram. White says this strategy is working.

“As an athlete, why wouldn’t you want to come to a school that is building new facilities for not only athletes, but students?” White says.

Wise agrees. “Right now it’s the fact that we are moving into Maple Leaf Gardens [which] will be a huge bonus to our program,” he says.

While the impending renovation of Maple Leaf Gardens is Ryerson’s biggest sell at the moment, Ryerson’s up and coming athletics program is garnering a lot of attention from recruits around the country. But, like all of the schools in Ontario, Ryerson is put at a disadvantage when it comes to recruiting.

While Joseph’s master plan is to transform Ryerson’s athletics program into a CIS power house, he says he refuses to attain that by sacrificing the school’s academic integrity.

“Our number one goal is our academic performance and our number two goal is our athletic performance,” Joseph says.

Photo: Marta Iwanek

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