The percentage of white athletes at Pomona-Pitzer is nearly twice as high as the percentage of white students at Pomona College and Pitzer College combined, according to data TSL recently obtained from the 2017-2018 academic year. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps’ data is less stark than P-P’s and is closer to national averages from 2017.
The percentage of nonwhite athletes at P-P is 33.6 percent lower than at the Pomona and Pitzer student bodies. Nationally, this percentage at NCAA Division III programs was 15.6 percent lower than at their student bodies in 2017, the last time the NCAA reported both data sets.
(Graphic by Meghan Joyce)
P-P athletic director Lesley Irvine said P-P is aware of the data and is engaged in intentional work around diversity to “reflect what the campuses look like.” While CMS athletic director Michael Sutton said CMS does not have specific policies in place, the department is also interested in increasing diversity. Yet, neither said there is an easy fix, explaining that the problem extends far past Claremont.
“It’s a complex issue,” Irvine said. “It’s something that you’re seeing that is impacted on the national level.”
Indeed, college sports being white-dominated is not 5C specific. Kirsten Hextrum, professor at the University of Oklahoma, explained in an email to TSL why the trend exists across the country.
“White people are more likely to live in majority-white communities, majority-white communities are more likely to be resource-rich, majority-white communities are more likely to have adults with the free time to invest in their children’s athletic performance, and majority-white communities have more and more quality sports options,” she wrote. “[…] Therefore, it’s not a great leap to see why white people have greater access to a diversity of high quality sport opportunities, which increases their chances of playing a sport in college.”
Camps, clinics, and high costs
One potential reason for a lack of athletic racial diversity: P-P and CMS coaches often recruit at camps and clinics to find many of their potential student-athletes. These camps are historically expensive and can present barriers for racially diverse athletes from college coaches noticing them.
“I recruit the majority of my athletes through ‘Headfirst’ camps, as well as athletes who are consistently emailing me to come watch them play at the local tournaments,” wrote CMS head softball coach Gina Oaks Garcia in an email to TSL.
The “Headfirst” softball camps cost $750 to attend in 2018, according to their website.
“There is only so much ground a single coach with limited assistant help can cover,” Sutton wrote in an email to TSL, explaining why coaches recruit at camps. “Finding the talent that also broadens diversity is the challenge.”
Hextrum’s research shows that knowledge of the recruitment process also helps athletes get recruited, especially to elite institutions.
She explained that many coaches at small colleges rely on networks of “recruiting agents,” typically composed of high school, club, or private coaches. Students from less diverse backgrounds typically have better access to these agents, she said.
“Coaches are permitted to have relationships across college, high school, club, and national team networks,” Hextrum said. “Through these networks, they can readily identify and recommend potential recruits. If you as an athlete are part of this network, your chances of recruitment go up.”
Valerie Townsend, P-P women’s volleyball head coach, said much of her recruiting goes through these networks.
“The majority of my student-athletes are recruited through their interest in the schools and through my contacts at various clubs/high schools that know the type of student-athletes I am looking for,” she wrote in an email to TSL.
Early decision incentives
Another possible reason for the lag in diversity at P-P and CMS centers on the nature of recruiting at elite Division III schools.
In Division III athletics, recruits cannot make a binding commitment to their teams because schools cannot offer athletic scholarships. For DIII coaches, early decision is the only contract they can use to secure their recruits.
“Most of my athletes apply early decision, and I highly encourage them to do so,” CMS head softball coach Gina Oaks Garcia wrote in an email to TSL. “This way, I know they are wanting to commit to our colleges, and once accepted, I have an idea of what my roster will look like for the following year.”
This desire to sign their athletes incentivizes P-P and CMS coaches to recruit students who can apply early decision. However, athletes who need financial aid could be disincentivized from applying early decision because they don’t receive their financial aid award until they are admitted through early decision, according to the admission offices at all five colleges. Each school has a “financial aid calculator,” but it only provides estimates, officials said.
With high tuition costs at the 5Cs and potential pressure to apply before schools release financial aid decisions, people of color, who are more likely to have lower socioeconomic backgrounds according to the U.S. census, may choose to play elsewhere.
Not typical Division III campuses
Both ADs also mentioned the role of academic rigor at the 5Cs.
“The admission rate at these schools are low, they’re highly academic,” Irvine said. “You’re looking for the student athletes who fit that academic profile, who also happen to be really good student athletes.”
“A small group ‘eligible’ for admission who can also be successful on our teams, coupled with the many opportunities available to the students we can recruit, creates the obvious challenge,” he said.
At many Division III institutions, colleges rely on athletics to boost enrollment and retention rates, Irvine said. At these schools, athletic departments have significant influence over admission decisions. However, at highly academic institutions like the 5Cs, coaches have far less pull.
“We don’t have structures in place, where I can just say ‘this student is coming here,’” she said. “ […] We get input, we get to advocate, but ultimately these are admissions decisions.”
Steps toward becoming more diverse
Irvine said, in an effort to increase diversity, P-P is actively engaged in encouraging other forms of recruiting. P-P received a $2 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2016, which included increased funds for recruiting.
With the additional resources, P-P coaches can recruit more actively and find recruits in new places, Irvine said. She believes the best way to increase diversity is to “diversify the way our coaches identify talent.”
“You cannot even begin to think you’ll impact diversity if you’re not willing to get out on the road and recruit,” she said.
“At the end of the day, what I can confidently say, is that we are focused on solutions.”
A byproduct of more active recruiting is P-P coaches are exposed to more total athletes, which in turn helps them find better student-athletes, she said. She hopes with better recruits, P-P teams will improve, which will attract more diverse recruits, as more potential recruits will know about P-P.
Sutton also discussed how CMS is looking to improve its recognition nationwide.
“The more well-known our campus becomes, the more likely we are to have contact with the wider population and perhaps greater success in gaining more racial and socio-economic diversity on our teams,” Sutton said.
Other than attempting to increase its name recognition, Sutton said CMS does not have any concrete strategy to increase racial diversity among their athletes.
“There is no articulated policy,” he said. “The challenge is to get the most talented scholar-athletes to ‘choose us.’”
Sutton said, while CMS understands the challenge of recruiting more diverse athletes, they recognize athletics is only a part of their student athletes’ experience on campus, and they are surrounded by a diverse student body every day.
“On the plus side, our student athletes do not live in isolation on campus,” he said. “Rather their room[mates], dorm[mates] and classmates are the broader student population. They live and engage in this community for a much larger percent of their time on campus than they do in their athletic environments. Athletics are an important component of the educational experience, but just a portion of the total.”
Gloria Bates CM ’20, a guard on the CMS women’s basketball team who identifies as a black American, doesn’t think CMS needs to make a more concerted effort to recruit more diversely.
“I think that the racial makeup of CMS athletics reflects the racial makeup of the middle and upper classes of America,” she wrote in an email to TSL. “Kids from lower classes can’t afford such a massive time commitment without financial compensation the way we at CMS can, so those who are good enough tend to play DI or DII; others quit basketball and choose on campus jobs, internships or paid research to occupy their time instead.”
She added: “If CMS wanted to address the diversity within their athletic ranks, their efforts would best be used shaping policies to support kids from lower socioeconomic backgrounds — [for example], ensuring all necessary gear doesn’t come out of their pockets, or coordinating alumni networks for potential career opportunities.”
Sagehen volleyball player Zaza Chaplin PO ’20, who identifies as black, said while she has found P-P to be inclusive toward people of color, she thinks P-P should continue to try to recruit more diverse athletes.
“I always think there is more work to be done,” she said.
Irvine said P-P continues to search for solutions to this challenge.
“We really pride ourselves, being at the DIII level, and being an institution such as ours, we want to be leaders and trendsetters around problem-solving for this,” she said. “[…] At the end of the day, what I can confidently say, is that we are focused on solutions.”
Hank Snowdon CM ’21 is an economics major with a data science sequence from Columbus, Ohio. He has previously served as TSL’s editor-in-chief, managing editor and sports editor.