By JIM O’DAY
In three weeks, the University of Montana and many other Division I intercollegiate athletic programs around the country will announce their in-coming football recruits starting with the 2013-14 school year.
Wednesday, Feb. 6, is the NCAA’s National Letter of Intent Signing Day for the sports of football, soccer and track and field/cross country. It is the largest group of new students announced each year for UM’s athletics program. Men’s and women’s basketball, as well as tennis, golf and women’s volleyball have their regular signing date on April 17, although there was also an “early signing period” last Nov. 14 for these particular sports.
Over the years, I’ve heard many interesting comments about recruits – and if schools do a credible enough job “checking out” these young men and women who are finishing their high school careers.
Although it isn’t an exact science, coaches and administrators do the very best job possible to make sure the incoming student-athlete is a good “fit” for that particular school, its athletics program – both academically and athletically, as well as socially – and the community. Not only do the coaches stay in constant contact (during allowable times adopted by the NCAA) with them, they also check with high school coaches, counselors and administrators, and others who might possibly know interesting tidbits about the potential recruit – including rival coaches, and sometimes even players. In addition to home visits by the coaches to meet the families, these young men and women are also brought to campus to see how they interact with the coaching staff, players, administrators and faculty. A considerable amount of time and energy is devoted to each and every recruit to learning as much as possible before any is offered an athletics scholarship.
Still, all the research and checking in the world won’t produce 100 percent results. It’s not that simple. These are 18 and 19-year-old kids who are most likely embarking on their own for the first times in their young lives, discovering freedoms that rarely existed at home under their parent’s supervision. From some skeptics, I would always hear the simple solution: “Don’t you do a background check.” Well, unless these young men and women had problems with the law after turning 18-years-old, it’s highly unlikely a background check will produce much relevant information from their juvenile years.
Academically, some students perform extremely well in high school, yet struggle once they arrive in college. That goes for many new students – not just student athletes. Fortunately for those student athletes who may struggle, they are able to get immediate guidance from tutors and advisors as their grades are checked periodically by coaches and the academic advising staff. That often helps them get back on track – and headed in a positive direction. Some schools are better than others when similar problems exist with incoming students who aren’t quite sure where to turn when they have face academic issues their first semester or two in college.
The early recognition of a potential problem is very helpful, and often helps many prosper in their college experience.
Although we often dwell on those who have their problems, the vast majority of student athletes are to be commended for their incredible accomplishments – and the balancing act each faces among school, athletics and social involvements. Time management is critical, and requires considerable discipline. Days are long, recovery periods short. And when there are issues, there are also accompanying consequences – some more public than others.
Recently, UM Athletics released two reports of significant importance. Although these typically generate little or no coverage from the media, they tend to diagram a roadmap of where a department is headed.
In the category of “Most Important Goal of a Student Athlete – GET A DEGREE,” it was recently announced that UM Athletics posted an incredible federal graduation rate score of 77 percent for the six-year reporting period of 2005-2011. That was particularly satisfying to me as that was my first class of incoming freshmen after being named as Director of Athletics at UM on June 30, 2005. Basically what it says is that of the scholarship athletes who started at UM in fall 2005, 77 percent GRADUATED from the University of Montana (not any other school as transfer students count against this total) over the six-year reporting period. This was accomplished thanks to an incredible group of student athletes, and a goal-oriented support staff who put academic accomplishments ahead of all else. Still, these athletes were also very successful in their respective sports – registering five conference championships in football, four in women’s basketball, two in men’s basketball, and one each in golf and women’s cross country. This group also accounted for two Sterling Savings Bank President’s Cup awards (2007 and 2011) as the most well-rounded athletics program in the Big Sky Conference. The 77 percent federal graduation rate also tied with Montana State as top amongst conference contenders. Leading the way for UM was football with 90 percent of the players who started at the school in the fall of 2005 graduating from the Missoula campus over the six-year reporting period.
On another scale, UM Athletics recently released the fall grades for Griz student athletes. Again, another outstanding set of numbers.
During Autumn Semester 2012, Griz teams posted a 3.09 grade point average – upping the cumulative GPA for the department to 3.11 – an all-time high. It marked the 15th consecutive semester dating back to 2005 that Montana athletic teams have posted a cumulative GPA of 3.00 or higher. For the semester, nine of 12 teams posted GPAs above 3.00.
Leading the way was women’s cross country at 3.60, followed by women’s volleyball at 3.48. UM’s soccer team, which tied for first-place honors among the Big Sky Conference regular-season standings last fall, finished at 3.42. Rounding out the remaining nine were: Women’s tennis (3.41), women’s basketball (3.33), women’s track and field (3.33), men’s cross country (3.28), women’s golf (3.25) and men’s tennis (3.00).
Of the three remaining teams, football and men’s basketball posted impressive marks of 2.92 each, with men’s track and field at a respectable 2.84.
All-in-all, it looks like UM Athletics is doing a pretty good job of recruiting great kids to the campus, and they help “Make It Missoula” proud.
Do you have questions for Jim? Use this Contact Us form and we’ll forward your questions to him for possible inclusion in future blogs. Like this blog? Chances are you’ll like these other Jim O’Day blogs: What the Financial Numbers mean for UM/MSU Athletics. Hiring/Retaining College Coaches is Becoming Tough, Former UM Coaches/Missoula Stars Making it Big in College Football, Why I chose to Make It Missoula, The Ups & Downs of Being a Griz Fan, Once a Griz, Always a Griz.
Jim O’Day was Director of Athletics at the University of Montana from 2005-2012. Prior to that, he served as the Assistant Director of the Grizzly Athletic Association and later as the Director of Development for Intercollegiate Athletics at UM.
Prior to returning to his alma mater in 1998, O’Day was the owner and publisher of the family-owned Western Breeze newspaper in Cut Bank, Montana.
Jim currently works for The Farran Group, a real estate development/ investment firm based in Missoula, MT. In addition, Jim serves as a consultant for Epio Solutions out of Seattle, a sports based agency primarily focused on monitoring social media platforms for various colleges and universities.
Jim and his wife Kathy have three sons: Chris, Kevin and Brian. Chris and Kevin are graduates of The University of Montana, while Brian is currently a senior at UM.