The Times West Virginian

December 18, 2013

Student-athletes should make their own college choices

By Matt Welch
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Recruiting can make or break a college program.

Fans mostly see big-name players choosing between three different sports teams’ hats on a stage or in a gym, and they think, man, I hope this guy or girl picks my team.

But no one ever stops and looks at it from a player’s perspective.

Jonathan Martin, a recruiting writer for BlueGoldNews.com on the FOXSportsNet and Scout.com networks, talks with recruits for a living.

No, he’s not influencing their decisions, but rather talking about their decisions, learning where they’re picking up offers from and relaying that information to you, the fans.

So Martin has seen what these kids are up against and some of the things they go through.

When choosing schools, Martin says there are three main factors that the student-athlete generally focuses on: academics, playing time and team success.

For North Marion’s Chase Banker, all three of those factors ring true in his decision-making process.

Banker, a senior at North Marion, has had talks with a few schools about playing football at the next level, but has yet to make his decision on his future plans.

“Mostly, I like to win. If I can get a winning coach, I’d like that the best,” Banker said of what plays the biggest part in his eventual choice. “If you’ve got young guys playing and a winning record, that’s always a plus.”

Banker said he ultimately wants to go somewhere where he can contribute sooner rather than later, and if a bigger school offered him a smaller role and a possible chance after a few years, he’d rather take the smaller school and the playing time.

“I’d probably take the smaller school just to play,” he said. “Obviously it’s cool to say 10 years down the road, oh, I played at WVU or I played at Marshall, but if you go to a smaller school and stand out, you can get your name out there, too.”

Asked where education was on the list, Banker said it comes hand-in-hand with sports.

“I get pretty good grades right now, so that opens up a few more options for me,” the 6-foot-1 football and basketball player said. “I can get an education wherever I go if I want to.”

With all of the different options weighing on student-athletes like Banker, added pressures of choosing a school still loom over their heads.

Those pressures can come from fans, teammates, friends and even family.

“Recruiting now has changed so much in the last 10 years,” Martin said. “You have recruiting sites and social media now. Fans have direct contact with the players and can influence them a great deal. People are always tugging on you, telling you where to go.

“You might want school ‘A’ but your friends and family want school ‘B’. Look at Dravon Henry. He had family and friends go to Pitt, and he chose WVU.”

Henry, who committed to West Virginia University last week, did in fact make the choice to attend WVU, and the decision was an emotional one for the cornerback.

Henry’s mother defended her son’s decision afterward, though, making Henry feel comfortable in his choice.

Not all athletes have that luxury, though.

Parents, ultimately, want what’s best for their child, and, when it comes to college, that’s normally a good education.

 Most of the parents I’ve talked to, whether they have children who are student-athletes or not, agreed that education should come first for their child, but sports can still be valued.

“It should always be about education, but sports play a huge part if it’s done correctly. Unfortunately, a lot of games are played off the field,” L.D. Skarzinski, father of Fairmont Senior’s Ryder Skarzinski said. “You can’t substitute the value of a good education, but the life lessons athletics teaches — trust, integrity and leadership — are crucial in shaping a person.”

The stakes can change, though, depending on your talent level and your personal goals.

On most occasions, student-athletes who are at a Division I talent level are choosing that school in hopes of making it to the professional level, whereas those who chose Division II or III likely are using sports as a means to pay for their education and continue doing what they enjoy at the same time.

“Division I athletes that I speak to generally are concerning their choices on sports,” Martin said of his experiences. “They’ll say this offense does this or this defense does that. D-I athletics are, in a way, built geared toward the next level.”

There are instances, though, where athletes choose Division I schools for both academics and athletics, but it’s a commodity that is on a slippery slope downward, unfortunately it seems.

In the end, though, it is the student-athletes’ responsibility to make their own choice, whether it be play small-school ball and get an education or shoot for the stars and work your tail off getting to the next level.

Martin gave this advice to prospective recruits: Do your homework and follow your heart.

He advised recruits to take all their visits, research schools and don’t make snap decisions. He also urged student-athletes to follow their gut and their heart and choose where they feel best satisfying their own needs, not those of family or friends.

Banker agrees, saying, “As a kid everyone’s like, I can’t wait to play in the NBA, or you’re watching college basketball and you’re watching some of the players you look up to. Obviously I’m not going to be a D-I standout, but I’ve got a chance to play at the next level.”

That is advice that applies not only to sports, but in life itself that we can all learn from.

If we follow our hearts, as cliche as it may sound, our decision will always be the right one.

Email Matt Welch at mwelch@timeswv.com or follow on Twitter @MattWelch_TWV.