Colleges recruit male students through athletics

Over the past few decades nationwide, male academic success and engagement in higher education has been steadily decreasing in comparison to female counterparts. Women are starting to outperform men on the standardized tests required for college admissions, graduate at higher rates and make up increasing percentages of incoming classes. The New York Times reported that Tulane University in New Orleans had a freshman class of almost two women to every man this year, a dramatic example of the trending numbers, which remain closer to three women for every two men.

Men’s decreasing enrollment in college, particularly BIPOC men, is a major concern for educators around the country. In response, universities are seeking to increase the number of men they bring in each year to close male educational gaps. One of the primary ways this gap is being addressed is by recruiting male athletes, especially for the still male-dominated sport of football.

Athletics recruitment has (anecdotally) gone to great lengths to attract men to higher education, sometimes lowering the barrier to entry presented by grades and other indicators of academic achievement. At many universities, academic merit scholarships match or are outpaced by in dollar amount the financial aid provided to athletes. Some admissions departments give extra consideration to male athletes with inferior grades, who rely on the importance placed on  their athletic ability to push them over the edge in admissions. Moreover, there is a lot to be gained, career-wise, from playing at a school with a famous Division 1 team.

At Lewis & Clark, however, much of this does not apply. LC offers no athletic scholarships or increased financial aid for players. As an intellectually rigorous institution, there are few safety nets from academic campus for low-performing athletes should they fall behind their non-athlete peers. So what draws student athletes to our Division 3 school – especially for a sport like football?

“It’s our players,” Head Football Coach Joseph Bushman said. “And it’s been this way since I got here. We are very family oriented. We have a really strong chemistry. And so when recruits show up on campus, they can sense how together our guys are and how together our coaches are. I think that makes them feel at ease and know that if they come here, they’re going to be looked after and cared for and have a sense of belonging.”

“Yeah, my  recruiting process from Lewis and Clark was my favorite out of all the schools I interacted with,” said Charlie Murrin ‘27. “I was recruited by Coach Machado, our offensive coordinator. And I love that he is a super nice guy, and he was super nice to me. Like when I was on my visit, I was here a little bit early, and he took me out to a breakfast spot in Lake Oswego. And that just made a super good impression.”

Approximately 21% of LC’s freshman males are on the Bushman’s 2023-2024 football team, leading to a much larger team than has been seen in recent years.

“When I got here four years ago, our roster size was 62. And now we started with 101, and currently we’re down to 99,” Bushman said. “So we’ve really, really grown. And that was something that I was told was important to our higher ups, that they want to increase our numbers in football.”

This large of a team attracts many different athletes, fostering a diverse community of players. Will Trunzo ‘24 walked on his freshman year, and has had two years of participating in recruitment under his belt going into his junior year with the team.

“We do an incredibly thorough job in our recruiting – We search all over the country, we find a lot of really great candidates,” Trunzo said. “And we bring them here, we show them what we’re all about, we show them the team, we host them, we do events with them. And I think that, overall, we do a really thorough and good job of recruiting the best candidates that we can find for the team.”

High school football players interested in coming to LC have extra resources to learn about campus when considering playing football here. Recruiters can go directly to schools or “prospect camps” to observe and talk to players. LC also hosts multiple of its own prospect camps here at the college during spring semester, where high school students come to tour campus, spend the night and meet coaches.

GMTM Inc., an online social networking site for college athletes, writes to its users that liberal arts colleges are spaces to get the holistic college experience, not just the college athlete experience. Development of skills beyond those on the field are meant to allow students to grow in ways that will help them for years once their sports career is over. 

“Bottom line: Your professors are going to know your name and learn what you need to succeed,” Scotty Jenkins said in an article for the site. 

LC takes the “student” in student athlete seriously. Both coaches and students emphasized the importance of and support devoted to academic success. 

“I think athletics in a lot of ways really helps with academics,” Trunzo said. “Because while it is an incredible time commitment, the coaches put in a lot of effort in terms of study halls, in terms of matching up student athletes in the same major, in terms of all of these kinds of efforts they make in order to keep us academically engaged.”

And at LC, this starts before players commit to the school. In an academic culture that has been struggling to keep up men’s levels of achievement in higher education, LC athletics prioritizes players knowing what they are getting into.

“On my visit, I had an academic mentor, Logan Herman” Murrin said. “He’s an environmental studies major. It was great to talk to him, and then I also talked to one of the professors, Elizabeth Safran.”

At LC’s prospect camp, an event called Meet Your Major takes place where prospective students can meet professors from different departments on campus in small groups to discuss their academic interests – even if not all those interests are easy to come by.

“The thing we battle is that we don’t have a business major.,” said Bushman. “It’s really hard to get kids to wrap their heads around (the fact) that they can come here and get a business experience here. That’s why our little sliver of entrepreneurship is great.”

Popular majors for prospective freshmen players pose another interesting challenge – as well as lacking a business program, LC has no kinesiology major or other route for sports medicine. Players who want that experience are encouraged to think outside the box about their time at LC. Participation in Rhetoric and Media Studies is popular, as well as the Entrepreneurship program.

Besides their academic life, athletes have an entire campus to engage with. Balking stereotypes that male students are more disengaged from campus life compared to female students, many football players participate in extracurricular activities off of the team, and the coaches emphasize the place of players in the school community.

“As athletes, we have to go support everyone else too,” Bushman said. “If you want people to come to your games, you have to go to other people’s events, you need to go to concerts, you need to go to plays, you need to be visible. It’s a two way street.”

Mutual support events like the Arts department tailgating a game or the football team going en masse to student theater productions support those goals. While LC may not have the same football culture as other schools, they can find their place on campus their own way. 

“While athletics are an important part of my experience at this school,” Trunzo said. “I’d say, don’t let it be the only thing you do here. It’s incredibly important to engage academically and to engage socially with people who aren’t involved with athletics because it will enrich your experience here to a great degree.”

A world that tells men they have no future or no space to succeed is one that needs to be changed. As the halls of academia see dwindling enrollment and decreasing engagement from male students, it is important that universities seek to support them as part of a balanced community. And while athletics is by no means the only way for men to participate on campus, it is still a major part of recruitment of men to our college, especially via football. 

“Don’t stress out so much about what college is going to be like,” Murrin said. “I’ve loved the transition so far. And I have a lot of friends on the team and outside the team. That was a worry of mine over the summer, but it hasn’t been the case at all.”

LC athletics and the football team’s coaching staff are on the right track to combat  the tenuous place of men in higher education. The football team members at this school are recruited and guided to be engaged, successful and positive members of campus life. When one part of a community is lifted up, the whole community is lifted along with them.

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