Why athletic diversity proves to be difficult

Last week, we had a great article written by Luca Balbo about the tennis team’s player diversity and how they cope with being in a new country and function as a team. Well, the article inspired me to dig just a little deeper and find out more about the international recruiting process. Marist College certainly likes to get their fair share of diversity. Students come from all over the country, states like California, Texas and Hawaii are just a few good examples. But when students come from other countries, and to play a sport, well that’s a whole different story.

For Pete Colaizzo, head coach and director of the men’s and women’s cross country and track program in his 26th year here, there are a ton of factors that go into recruiting and why they don’t recruit overseas. The first thing Coach Colaizzo mentioned, was “team size” and how the distribution of money and financial aid come into effect. “International students need a full ride” in order to attend schools in the United States, and it’s simply not in the budget. There are a lot of factors on each team, but the main one for the cross country team is the budget. Though it depends on the kind of family and country the student would be coming from, said student would need a lot of financial support that Coach Colaizzo is unfortunately unable to provide. Though it’s a number he didn’t share, Coach Colaizzo only gets a certain amount of scholarship money per year, and it simply isn’t worth taking a chance on spending all of that money on one guy from a foreign country. “It’s too high risk” because if the athlete turns out to under perform, that’s not only a lot of money down the drain, that’s also a lot of roster spots that could’ve been filled by other people too.

Iona College is also a big obstacle for Coach Colaizzo and his runners. “Iona is a fully funded program” and they get a lot of international athletes. Eight of their 23 distance runners are from countries overseas. Countries like Kenya, Germany, England to name a few. Then there are another five from Canada, for a total of 13 out of 23 athletes not originally from the United States. Because Iona has the ability to recruit such talent, they continue to dominate the MAAC Conference, a conference Marist is also a part of. “It also depends on the team, certain programs get funded better.” Iona lacks in many sports, but excels in cross country and basketball, so naturally those are the two programs that get the most money. For Marist, basketball receives the most money, allowing them to do some overseas recruiting.

Though it is hard for Coach Colaizzo to not only recruit overseas, it is difficult for him to even get over there to scout athletes as well. Coach Mike Maker of the men’s basketball team does not have that problem. His assistant Coach, Andy Johnson, has been with him for the last two years now, and does in fact have access to coaching overseas. Budget is obviously a big factor, but having the right connections is equally as important. Having four international players themselves, from places like Iceland, Sweden and Denmark, they have the tools, and the means of accessibility. Coach Maker shared that they have 30 scholarships, so affordability is not often a factor. But what helps Coach Johnson in the recruiting process, is Marist’s Hudson Valley location. Not only does Marist have nice basketball facilities, they’re only a train ride away from one of the greatest cities in the world, they get full rides, a quality education and are close to airports if they need to get home. Coach Maker also explained the importance of a well balanced team. You don’t want to overload a team with too many international students, which is why he values players like Khallid Hart, he’s a great player and he’s from Delaware. So there’s a quality mix of talent from all over.

There’s also something to be said about the NBA and how diversity is a big part in the professional teams too. “The Spurs have lots of overseas players,” Coach Maker told me also bringing up Marist’s famous Rik Smit’s. Smit’s is arguably Marist’s most iconic player from the Netherlands, and went on to play his entire career for the Indiana Pacers. “I think Rik Smit’s is a great example,” Coach Maker mentions when talking about a diverse team.

Aside from basketball having access and cross country not having access, Coach Katherine Lyn of the women’s soccer team is a bit more down the middle. Catching her after a clinic for potential future athletes but before a conference game against Fairfield, she explained that women’s soccer and men’s soccer are vastly different in terms of international athletes. She backs up Coach Maker’s point that it does have a lot to do with contacts overseas, but for women’s soccer, the “pool of European female athletes is smaller” then for other sports. “There are even some countries that don’t believe women should participate in athletics, so it can be hard to get them to play soccer here” she laughs. As far as her roster goes, they currently don’t have any athletes not from the U.S. but they are actively recruiting a girl from another country for next year. When asked about the men’s few international athletes, Coach Lyn explained that men’s soccer players are in higher demand from other countries and as far as pure speed and strength goes, women’s soccer in America is the best there is, so there isn’t much of a need to go overseas like there is for the men. “The majority of successful men’s teams are 70-75% made up of international athletes.” She used Rider as an example. Rider has nine international players, but because the coach (Charlie Inverso) is of English background, he has great connections and is able to get such high profile athletes from all over the world.

Coach Lyn did say budget can be a bit of a challenge, due to the fact that they, like cross country, are not a fully funded program. Due to the fact that international students don’t get financial aid, all of their money comes from athletics, and that becomes an issue that Coach Colaizzo has as well. Coach Lyn has high hopes, however. Canada has a big pool of talent, and many people up there know people from, or are originally from the U.S. themselves. So many women look to play soccer here, and Coach Lyn, who has now been here for five years, is looking to start recruiting from up North (as she beckons to her assistant coach who nods in agreement). Though countries that have a prestigious soccer background like Germany, Brazil and England are traditionally dominant, not having the need or connections there inevitably leave the team without players from other countries.

There are reasons to have, and not to have international players on your team. Some, like basketball have the capability of affording them and having a prior connection, teams like women’s soccer don’t necessarily have the need for any for now, and for cross country, purely lacking the budget and resources to go fishing in that pond for now. As for Tim Smith, the tennis coach for 18 years, a winning record will always make a good case to keep reeling in the talent from all over the place.

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