January 7, 2008

Junior College Volleyball - Recruiting Information

The option of playing Junior College Volleyball is one that should be seriously considered by many Prospective Student Athletes (PSA's), especially if a player is not completely comfortable and excited about their current post-high school education/volleyball opportunities.

I have written in past posts about other options outside of the much hyped NCAA Division I segment. Many NCAA Division I schools are trading on the moniker of DI and not providing respectable support for their volleyball team. I know of too many programs that pay their head coaches salaries in the 30's, don't provide adequate travel and equipment support for the team, yet the program is expected to be the Athletic Department poster child for NCAA Athletics - all the good with non of the blemishes of the Flagship sports.

The non-NCAA Division I opportunities are:

NCAA Division II - The NCAA limits each school to a total of 8 scholarships and each school/conference decides at what level to fund their volleyball program(s) up to the NCAA limit. The season is generally shorter and the off-season is not as intense, when compared to DI.

NCAA Division III - DIII scholarships are based solely on academic credentials. No scholarship moneys are supposed to be determined by athletic ability. Much shorter season and an extremely limited off-season, when compared to DI and DII.

NAIA - I am not as familiar with this organization of athletics, but it is my understanding that each school determines it scholarship support and academic admission requirements. Many schools with a religious affiliation that don't wish to spend the tens of millions needed to run a NCAA athletic department can be found in the NAIA.

The main difference in the Junior College division versus the three listed above is that Junior Colleges are two year institutions that determine their own admission policies based on the philosophy of the school. Having been a successful multi-sport athlete in high school, I will be the first to admit that my young view of Junior Colleges was that they were for athletes that either were dumb or were not good enough to play NCAA sports.

While this may be true in other sports (the common impression is that of basketball and football), but for Volleyball this is not exactly the case. As I gain more experience as a coach (14 years and I still learn many new things each year), I have come to respect the tremendous opportunity that Junior Colleges present to volleyball PSA's.

As an unsigned PSA progresses through their Senior Year, I strongly suggest they consider the Junior College option. The strengths of a Junior College student-athlete experience:

1. You can play. You may be good enough to play NCAA volleyball but do you want to sit on the bench for two to three years at a 4 year school, or do you want to play as a freshman and sophomore?

2. Quality competition. There are a great number of Junior College teams that I would not want to play because they could beat my team. Because of the influx of International student-athletes at the Junior College level, the competition can be outstanding.

3. Full Scholarship - All the Junior Colleges that I interact with or know the head coaches, offer full scholarships to their players. Outside of Division I, JC's may full scholarship a larger percentage of their athletes than any other segment.

4. Academic Progress - A major hurdle that some freshman Student-Athletes face is balancing the rigorous academic load of college, with the intense travel/training regimen of being a fall sport athlete. While JC's also travel and train, by and large, their class loads do not have the intensity of the elite universities. A Student-Athlete can complete much of the rudimentary course work needed for a 4 year degree at the Junior College in a much 'healthier' academic climate.

5. More Balance - It seems that all college level volleyball programs are spending more time in travel, team training, off-season lifting/conditioning and spring season training/competition, but JC's will usually not log as many hours as NCAA programs - This is a good thing, too much volleyball is not the healthiest situation.

6. Better Crowds - Embarrassingly enough, a number of JC matches enjoy a larger, louder crowd than many NCAA Division I programs. Nobody likes playing in an empty gym, but it seems to happen less at the JC level.

7. Barriers to Admission - While the NCAA has tried to create formulas to enable a larger percentage of PSA's initial eligibility, the Junior Colleges are much more forgiving of unique circumstances - learning disabilities, family hardships, events beyond a PSA's control - JC's provide the route to NCAA graduation, without having to deal with NCAA admission restrictions.

8. Quality Coaches - In my interaction with Junior Colleges coaches, I have generally found two situations - Young coaches that are talented but don't have the sexy, big name university on their resume or older coaches who have long term demonstrated success. Don't be fooled into thinking that because a head coach was an assistant at a power conference school that they are a good coach - Odds are that the power conference program was successful before that coach got there and will be successful after they leave. I was one of those assistant coaches; it was humbling to realize just how little I knew about being a head coach and creating/running a successful program.

The Junior College ranks are divided into a number of divisions and a California segment that is not affiliated with the rest of the country. You can find complete information about Junior College Volleyball (divisions, rankings, history, stats, etc.) at www.njcaa.org and the California organization is at www.coasports.org.

Again, I believe that Junior College Volleyball is a smart option and one that should be taken seriously as an unsigned PSA embarks upon their Senior year of high school. My biggest advice is to keep an open mind and you may well be surprised what a good fit it is for you.

Don't think that because you started at a Junior College that NCAA schools will not be interested in you after two years - in fact, just the reverse is coming true; a great number of NCAA programs are active in recruiting Junior College players because they bring maturity, experience and talent to the floor!