Matt Standal was going to be Jim Russell's prize recruit.
Standal was a 6-foot-8 forward from Fridley and Russell, the men's basketball coach at Central Lakes College, coveted him.
Russell made recruiting trips in hopes to woo Standal to play for the Raiders. Standal orally committed and even registered at CLC.
Two weeks before fall classes started, Russell got the call that every junior college coach dreads. Standal told Russell he was enrolling at Fergus Falls instead.
In 2003, CLC football coach Dennis Eastman thought he had talented running back Ryan Zachman of St. Michael-Albertville, who ranked 15th all-time in Minnesota single-season rushing yards. At the last minute, Zachman backed out.
Recruiting nightmares are common place for Eastman and Russell. Trying to sell junior college sports to a high school athlete is a difficult job. But future recruiting at CLC may take on a new angle.
As of the 2004-05 school year, CLC is offering in-state tuition rates to out-of-state students. In short, a football or basketball player from Miami, Fla., will pay the same tuition as an athlete from Pierz.
But the question that looms over the CLC athletic department is how much out-of-state recruiting will its coaches do?
The administration at CLC began discussions on tuition two years ago. At the end of the school year, administration will meet and determine how much of a difference the tuition change made.
"The tuition change doesn't specifically relate to athletics," CLC president Joe Birmingham said. "The broader picture is that we may expand some of our academic programs where we have long waiting lists to enroll more students.
"This was not only an athletic issue but an institution issue."
One example of program expansion is the heavy equipment operations and maintenance program at CLC's Staples campus. Currently, there is a one-year waiting list for the program, one of only 10 in the nation.
But there is no doubt athletics could be affected.
Before this year, Hibbing, Mesabi Range, Northland and Rainy River were the only colleges to offer in-state tuition to non-residents. At those schools, the number of non-resident athletes dominate the athletic landscape.
Does that mean out of state athletes will begin migrating in droves to CLC? It is possible. But Jane Peterson, CLC athletic director and volleyball coach, doesn't necessarily see that happening any time soon.
"The tuition change made the playing field level because so many of our opponents were already doing it," Peterson said. "You can't convince a kid to come here and pay twice as much for the same services. Everybody in our department has the same philosophy and that's to recruit locally first."
Football: The great divide
In football this fall, Mesabi Range won the Northern Division and finished 9-1. Of the 74 players on the Norsemen's roster, 69 were from out of state and five were from Minnesota.
At Rainy River, which started a football program four years ago, 59 of the 60 players were non-residents. Forty-three of the 59 non-resident players came from Florida.
But, having a roster filled predominantly with out-of-state players doesn't guarantee success as Rainy River went 0-9 last year.
This season CLC had 49 players, a large increase in numbers over previous years. Of those 49 players, only 18 were non-residents.
The Raiders had the fourth-best Minnesota to non-resident player ratio in the 11-team MCCC, with 63 percent of their players coming from in-state. Ridgewater College, which finished 6-3, was the best with 98 percent of its players coming from Minnesota.
Of the 18 non-resident players at CLC, nearly all contacted the coaching staff first by filling out a prospective athlete form on the CLC Web site.
Eastman and his staff break down their recruiting into three areas. The first is a 50-mile radius from Brainerd. The second is anywhere in-state. The third is anywhere in the country.
"In previous years you could recruit in-state and be very competitive," Eastman said. "Now so many other teams have out-of-state kids and in order to compete you have to look at recruiting those players. But we don't necessarily agree with that and we try to stay with Minnesota kids."
Eastman, who's coached football for seven years at CLC, has seen a change in community college athletics and doesn't necessarily like what he's seeing.
"Its starting to hurt the community college atmosphere," Eastman said of out of state recruiting. "When football started out it was to give kids in Minnesota a chance to play and we're sort of losing that now.
"As coaches we have to make choices. Do you stay in Minnesota and take a beating or do you get on the boat and see what happens?"
In men's basketball the numbers are more even. There were only three schools this winter, Rainy River, Riverland and Minnesota West, that have more out of state than Minnesota players. Two players on Rainy River's team hail from the Bahamas.
The Raiders, like 11 other teams in the MCCC, have a Minnesota-laden roster. Four players are from Wisconsin, which has had reciprocity with Minnesota for years.
Russell believes in recruiting from the area first, the rest of the state second.
He concedes there's a balancing act when it comes to recruiting. He wants area talent but he also wants the best talent he can get.
"If I wanted to I could bring kids in from anywhere just by phone or Internet," Russell said, "but that would change our mission. What are we really trying to do? Are we trying to keep kids in the community and give them an opportunity? I say yes. But we also need to stay competitive."
For the past six years, Vermilion has been one of the state's top teams. In that span the Ironmen have a 141-38 record and played in three national tournaments. They did that with a majority of out-of-state talent.
The temptation to bring in players from out of state is an every day occurrence for Russell. But that's not the program he wants to build
"With the talent these out-of-state kids have you could win a lot of games on talent alone," Russell said. "You have to have talent to win but to build a program and take it to another level, is it just about talent alone? I don't think it is."
The housing factor
Housing student-athletes is an issue when it comes to recruiting at the junior college level. Fergus Falls, Hibbing, Mesabi Range, Vermilion, Rainy River and Riverland all provide on-campus housing.
CLC currently has no on-campus housing and works with the apartments surrounding the college in housing student-athletes.
Birmingham said there are no future plans for adding on-campus housing. He cited the expense, the time to get a project approved and management of the facility as stumbling blocks.
From Russell's and Eastman's standpoint, a dorm would ease many of their headaches.
"Right now housing is our nightmare as coaches," Eastman said. "It can be very difficult for kids coming from out of town or out of state. The Pines (apartment complex near campus) did a tremendous job of working with us this year. Affordable housing is one of the biggest costs with college. Having a choice would be nice."
Many times athletes show up on campus without any furniture or even a bed and expect Russell or Eastman to help them. But, as Russell points out, there is a level of responsibility he carries with out of state athletes.
"I feel a lot more responsible for a kid that's out of state," Russell said. "If a kid is really going to grow they need a roof over their head, food on the table, concentrate on school, then athletics.
"But, if one of those things gets out of line, how can a kid step on the court and play or be in the classroom and learn if they have these issues to worry about?"
TROY GUNDERSON can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5865.
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