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Cross-country runners pay their own way

BY SEAN MORGAN | OCTOBER 01, 2009 7:20 AM

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When most people think about Division-I college athletes, fame, privilege, and full-ride scholarships come to mind.

This would be true if the sport in question is football or basketball. But for athletes in a non-revenue-earning sports, the reality is far different.

Hawkeye cross-country head coach Larry Wieczorek must make 12.6 scholarships work for a track and field team composed of 55 student-athletes.

“There are a lot of great athletes in track and field who are paying their own way,” he said. “There just isn’t enough money to go around.”

Of the 17 runners who compete on the Iowa cross-country team, only five are on scholarship, and none have full rides. The lack of scholarships available pose a difficult recruiting situation for the coach and his peers, Wieczorek said.

“You’re in a really tough position,” he said. “The top athletes out there are going to merit a scholarship. You really have to plan ahead so you can offer scholarships when you need to.”

One of the biggest road blocks in persuading a blue-chip prospect to attend Iowa without receiving a big scholarship is convincing the athletes’ parents they aren’t being shortchanged.

“Some parents just don’t get it,” he said. “Their son will be all-conference in high school, and they can’t understand why we are trying to persuade them to walk-on. It’s especially difficult if the parents are new to the recruitment process.”



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One athlete who decided to trust Wieczorek and walk on at Iowa is cocaptain Tommy Tate, who is paying his way in the same fashion as most non-athletes — through student loans.

He said it came down to coach Wieczorek, team camaraderie, and the town, which was just the right size to keep the small-town prospect comfortable.

“My senior year, Coach Wieczorek called me up and asked if I wanted to walk on,” Tate said, who went to high school in Galesburg, Ill., “It came down to Iowa, Miami [Ohio], or the Illinois-Chicago. The campus visit sold me.”

The selling point for high-school runners doesn’t drastically change in cases when they are offered a scholarship. In the case of All-Big Ten selection Jesse Luciano, Wieczorek first met him during his sophomore year in high school. Two years later, he was eating dinner with the Villa Park, Ill., native.

Luciano received a partial scholarship, but he said it had little to do with him choosing Iowa.

“A lot of Big Ten schools made me offers,” he said. “It came down to either Iowa or Illinois. After meeting the team, I felt that the team chemistry was a lot better than at Illinois.”

Wieczorek said he tries to get successful walk-ons some scholarship money later in their careers. If a runner earns it, he’d rather give the money to them then an unproved high-school runner.

“There are times when a walk-on might deserve it more,” Wieczorek said. “Sometimes a scholarship runner will be less successful than a walk-on, but I can’t move that money because I already gave [the scholarship] to someone else.”

For Iowa to succeed, Wieczorek tries to preach the same team values that helped the Iowa wrestling program rise to a national power under legendary coach Dan Gable.

“Sometimes, the better you are as a program, the less money each athletes is getting for scholarships,” he said. “Wrestling has had people give back money. You need unselfish guys who realize the less money they get, the more the team has to use to get the big prospects. They have to take a little bit and give a little bit for the good of the team.”


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