The NCAA permits Division II schools less stringent initial academic eligibility requirements, which have been a stumbling block for many Division I aspirants from the District. And since all District residents are eligible for a $10,000 tuition benefit for state schools, Division II programs, which have limited scholarship money to disburse, see District recruits as veritable bargains.
At least 20 Division II recruits this year are coming from the District, about twice as many as those going Division I.
“What people don’t understand is we’ve got an edge on other states,” said Friendship Coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim, who sent eight of his players from the Class of 2011 to Division II schools.
The 5-foot-9, 175-pound Bradley looks across the Friendship practice field at defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, one of the nation’s top recruits, and says it’s tough not to be discouraged when recruiters from all over the country bypass Bradley and his teammates to court the 6-4, 300-pound senior.
Abdul-Rahim “never told me to give up on Division I, but to keep my mind open that it may not happen,” Bradley said. “Sometimes you aren’t the greatest athlete, but there’s a place for you. You just have to look a little harder for it.”
Recruiting in Division II contradicts most preconceived notions of the business, where money rarely inhibits a Division I school’s pursuit of a sought-after player. By comparison, finances are at the heart of Division II recruiting.
For starters, Division II schools are limited by the number of scholarships they can disburse annually. Division I-A schools can grant 85 scholarships, of which each recruit gets a full grant, while those in division I-AA can spread out 63 scholarships to no more than 85 players (giving some players partial scholarships).
Division II programs are limited to just 36 football scholarships, which they split up among their roster, with a player seldom receiving a full athletic package. The NCAA said it does not track how many football programs are fully funded (i.e., give out 36 scholarships annually), but according to Brandon Misener, who founded and operates the Web site d2football.com, fewer than 25 percent of the 155 schools that play Division II football are fully funded.
This forces programs to maximize the number of players they can get with their limited finances. That’s where District’s tuition benefit, a grant toward the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition costs at state schools nationwide, is a boon to recruits. More than 62 percent (97 of 155) of Division II football programs are state schools.
Some colleges have taken notice. Glenville State, a 1,500-student college in north-central West Virginia, has commitments from 11 students in the Class of 2011 from five D.C. public and charter schools, and had 10 from the District on its roster last season.
“There’s a ton of talent there,” said Glenville assistant Dave McEntire, who recruits the D.C. area. “You’re basically getting out-of-state students for in-state prices.”
Tuition and fees for in-state students at Glenville, for example, is $5,352 per year, while the tab for out-of-state students is $12,720. McEntire said he typically has about 20 total scholarships each year to give out.
The scholarship limit does not include any need-based financial aid or academic grants a recruit receives because those funds would have been earned regardless of the student’s athletic ability.
“If I’m looking at kids, I’m looking at the financial aid first,” said Moe Ware, who is in his first year as an assistant at Division II Bowie State after a five-year tenure as head coach at Ballou. “We’re so limited on scholarship money.”
Division II schools also operate with different academic standards for prospective recruits — a 2.0 grade-point average in 14 core-curriculum courses, as opposed to the 16 required by Division I, and an SAT score of 820, as opposed to the sliding scale imposed by Division I, which allows a higher GPA to offset a lower SAT score.
“We’ve had better success with Division II in the city as far as the SAT [minimum] being at 820 instead of the sliding scale,” said Theodore Roosevelt football coach and athletic director Daryl Tilghman. “The SAT hurts a lot of our kids.”
After starting at defensive back at three-time defending DCIAA champion H.D. Woodson last fall, Ian Jackson had interest from Division I programs Syracuse, Cincinnati and Rhode Island, and had been awarded the Achievers Scholarship by the College Success Foundation, valued at $50,000 for four years. Students from six District schools — only four of which have football teams (Anacostia, Ballou, Friendship and Woodson) — are eligible for Achievers Scholarships.
Jackson, though, said he struggled on the SAT, and realized he would not score high enough to gain Division I eligibility. He said Syracuse and Cincinnati both asked him to spend next fall at a prep school, working to boost his test score. Jackson wasn’t comfortable with that because he said there was no guarantee either would accept him if he did qualify.
“My dream wasn’t to go to a D2 school,” Jackson said, “but when my [SAT] score came back, I knew that’s where I was going.”
Last month, after considering his options, Jackson visited Glenville and signed his letter-of-intent. He was thrilled to get a chance to play right away and won’t have to carry any loans. McEntire was happy since Jackson hardly cost him any athletic scholarship money because Jackson’s Achievers Scholarship took care of most of his costs.
“You’ve got to sell them on Division II because everyone’s got their eyes on the dream,” said Woodson assistant Wayne Johnson, who has handled the team’s recruiting for 18 years. “But sometimes, you’ve got to tell them to let that dream pass.”