By STEVE KRAH
While so many would-be college baseball players chase the athletic scholarship, this is not the case at the NCAA Division III level.
Scholarships at D-III are strictly for academics.
“Athletic ability gets them nothing,” says Jeff Jenkins, head baseball coach for 28 years and athletic director for 15 at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute. “(Baseball or other athletic teams) have no say in that whatsoever.
“That’s the D-III life. Kids are doing it for the pure love of the game.”
Jenkins, an Urbana, Ohio, native is well-versed in the culture after playing at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio, and coaching at Heidelberg University in Tiffin, Ohio, and Bethany (W.Va.) College — all D-III institutions — before landing in Terre Haute.
It’s all about the studies at Rose, an elite engineering school. Many classes meet until 5:10 p.m. and all the school’s outdoor facilities — including baseball’s Art Nehf Field — are lighted to accommodate late practices and games.
With breaks, weekend games and weekday night games, Jenkins expects his Fightin’ Engineers to miss only 1 1/2 days of classes the entire 2017 season because of two Heartland College Athletic Conference road games.
By rule, coaches are not allowed to have out-of-season contact with players. Teams have to get fall practices (with one contest date of up to 18 innings) and 40 varsity spring games in 19 total weeks (Rose will also have about 20 “split squad” or junior varsity games this spring).
“Some coaches might be in their office going through withdrawal pains,” says Jenkins, who notes that D-III does not present the off-season requirements that face scholarship-carrying athletes.
“We can suggest things they can do to be better players,” says Jenkins. “But the onus is on them. If they want to win, they’re going to do things in the off-season. Our kids are very smart, but they still want to win.”
RHIT has done so on a regular basis. Since Jenkins’ first Rose team in 1990, the Engineers have played in seven D-III tournaments (making the deepest runs in 2014 and 2016 by reaching the Central Regional championship round), won six conference tournament titles and claimed four regular-season championships. This has been achieved in a division that includes private schools like Rose-Hulman with an enrollment around 2,300 and state colleges with several times the number of students all vying for a chance to play in the eight-team D-III World Series in Appleton, Wis.
With the tough academic standards and no athletic scholarships to offer, RHIT has to throw a wider recruiting net, searching coast to coast for players. Of the 43 players on the current roster, four are from Colorado and three from California. Besides these and the 15 from Indiana, nine other states are represented.
“We’ve found our niche,” says Jenkins, whose assistant coach Sean Bendel is in his 19th season. “We’ve won because we’ve found good players who find the time to be successful. We have very nice facilities.”