Conversation with Greg Wallace
For the first 20 of Greg Wallace’s 28 years at Grinnell, he was head football coach. He has also coached golf and baseball, and he is an associate professor of physical education. For the past eight years, Wallace has served as director of athletics and recreation.
Wallace is currently developing a new approach to recruiting student-athletes at Grinnell. He is laying the groundwork for a five-year senior faculty project that will begin after he retires as athletics director this fall and becomes coordinator of student-athlete recruitment for the Office of Admission. We asked him about his plans:
Is this a new role?
It absolutely is a new role. I tested the waters last fall. I did some of my high school visits at that time and scheduled meetings with athletics directors at high schools in Kansas City, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
How did you come up with this idea?
I felt like we needed to get our name out there, because a lot of schools I visited knew of Amherst, or maybe Oberlin or Pomona, but we weren’t necessarily in that same conversation. My hope is that when somebody is looking at one of those schools, either the athletic director or a coach will say, “If you’re looking at those schools, you ought to look at Grinnell.”
So, you are giving schools the tools to point students to Grinnell?
Exactly right. And as you go through the process, you learn a little more each time you go to the school. One of the things I tried to do at all of the schools was not only to visit the AD [athletics director], but also to stop in and introduce myself to people in the counseling office.
Where do you recruit?
It’s interesting. We really don’t have very many of what you would call feeder schools. The whole key is name recognition. We want to be in the same conversation for student- athletes whether they’re looking at a NESCAC [New England Small College Athletic Conference] school or they’re looking at an Ivy school.
Are there NCAA rules specific to this kind of role?
Once students become juniors in high school, you can have direct contact with them. That’s not always been the case. Now, juniors can actually come to your campus to visit in the spring of their junior year.
By invitation or on their own?
Either way, but in most cases it would probably be by invitation from the coach. I think it’s a good thing simply because schools like Grinnell are really working hard to get early-decision students, and you can’t get early-decision students unless you’ve made contact sometime during their junior year.
How does this dovetail with other recruiting efforts?
Many of our coaches are going to academic elite camps and showcases where junior athletes are participating. A lot of times there is academic information available to coaches who attend those. As soon as we get that information, we bring it back and put it into our system, which automatically takes it to the admission office so students will start receiving information from Grinnell College, as well as from our athletics program.
Does Grinnell actively recruit students who are pursuing Division I athletic programs?
We send our coaches to some of the Ivy League camps, because if there are 150 kids at an Ivy League camp, that Ivy school may sign two of those. That leaves 148 of them who are looking for someplace to go.
A lot of our coaches in team sports are getting YouTubes [YouTube videos] that the kids have put together themselves or that show game highlights. Coaches are getting a pretty good look at the potential of student-athletes in competition. The recruiting of student-athletes has always been intense, but it takes up so much of our coaches’ time and energy now that they are working as hard or harder during the recruiting process as [they do] during the coaching of their actual sport. Recruiting never stops for us.
How else is the recruiting process different for a Division III school?
Division I and Division II have a national signing date the first week of February, so they have their class at that time. We’re recruiting all the way up to May 1, when students have to declare what schools they are going to attend. If we’re only working on seniors at that point, then we’re not doing justice to the next year’s class. So we’ve got to have a plan to address this year’s class and also a way to monitor and communicate with next year’s class.
Have student-athletes changed over the years?
I think student-athletes are the same, but there is more information available to them than ever before. For example, the Midwest Conference was one of the first Division III conferences to require webcasting of home contests in football, basketball, and volleyball. That’s been a big recruiting tool.
We do webcasting now for almost all of our contests, so I can assure parents that they’re not going to have to miss a home contest or an away conference contest. It’s a big plus, even for prospective students who are able to watch and say, “I think I can play there,” or “I can see that guy’s graduating so that position’s open next year.”
Final thoughts on your new endeavor?
I’m just very excited about it. I’ve had some very good response. I think it’s a good opportunity for us to get the type of student-athlete that we want at Grinnell College. It’s a way to get the brand in front of more people so that more coaches will say to students, “You could probably play at Grinnell. Have you thought about that?”