No signing day for D-III football programs

Published: February 1 2010 | 4:39 pm - Updated: 30 March 2014 | 6:28 pm in
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They ring a bell in the Coe College admissions office every time a kid sends in his $200 enrollment deposit. Call it a victory bell, a celebration for having someone decide to attend the northeast Cedar Rapids school.

Surprisingly, there are no bells in the football office, though maybe there should be. We’re talking church size here because recruiting for NCAA Division III football programs is tough, tough business.

“It seems sometimes coaching is minor compared to recruiting,” said Coe head coach Steve Staker.

“I have friends at D-I colleges who say they’ll never go back to Division III,” said Cornell College Coach Vince Brautigam. “Because the recruiting is just never ending.”

Wednesday is signing day for Division I and II football programs, with the nation’s four and five-star prep players inking their official letters of intent to places like Iowa, Iowa State, Florida and Notre Dame.

There’s nothing like that for Coe, Cornell and the rest of the Iowa Conference schools. No letters of intent, no press conferences, no national television talking head touting how well or poorly you did.

You basically tell a kid he has to pay for his own tuition, room and board because there are no athletic scholarships in Division III. You coax him to come to a Coe, Cornell or Luther and hope he shows up the first day of practice in August.

“Until you see the whites of their eyes, you don’t really know what your recruiting class is,” Brautigam said.

Coe and Luther actually subscribe to services that help them identify potential recruits, especially in Iowa. The schools have other areas they traditionally recruit: Colorado, the Chicago suburbs, Kansas City, St. Louis and Dallas-Fort Worth areas for Coe; Colorado, Texas, Wisconsin, Illinois, California and Florida for Cornell; Minnesota, Wisconsin and Colorado for Luther.

Keep in mind, this is done on significantly smaller budgets than what you have at Iowa — approximately $7,000 at Coe and one recruiting car.

“I think I counted up the other day that there are 27 schools in Iowa who have football programs,” Staker said. “That doesn’t include Iowa and Iowa State. That’s a lot of football, and Iowa is not that populated. So when everything gets divvied up, we do have to spend time (elsewhere).”

The phone is the D-III coach’s best friend. While there are “dead” periods in Division I and II, D-III coaches can call or have in-person contact any time with seniors in high school.

They can phone high-school juniors and have in-person contact if the kid comes to their campus. The nightly list of phone calls, including during the season, becomes particularly grinding.

“It is a year-around thing for us,” Staker said. “Division I and Division II have these windows where they can do and can’t do certain things. Where they can go watch these kids play or talk to the parents. We can call them all the time, we can visit them all the time, we can watch them play basketball games or go to track meets at any time.”

“Everything starts early,” said Luther Coach Mike Durnin. “You’re spending more time developing that relationship. That’s one of our advantages, to get to know that person and develop a relationship with him.”

The biggest disadvantage, of course, is a lack of scholarships. Aid is available, depending on a recruit’s grades, ACT/SAT scores and parents’ financial situation.

But simply getting them into your school is no sure thing. Cornell, in particular, has tough entrance requirements, believed to be the most stringent in the Iowa Conference.

“That’s just part of the challenge,” Durnin said. “To me, that’s not a negative at all.”

“I truly believe every school has its niche,” Brautigam said.

With no athletic scholarships, D-III coaches can recruit and bring in as many kids as they desire. It truly is the more, the merrier.

After all, these guys want to win football games as badly as Kirk Ferentz and Paul Rhoads.

“A lot of people don’t realize it,” Durnin said. “But the heart and desire to be successful is the same at every level.”

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