Sasa Kampic sat on a 747 cruising high above the Atlantic crying her eyes out, asking “what have I done?”
The 18-year-old Kampic was making her way to her first semester of college like so many thousands of high school graduates each fall. The difference: she graduated high school in Kranji, Slovenia; where she was also one of the nation’s top young javelin throwers.
The 11-hour flight was filled with questions of uncertainty and apprehension. But upon arriving in San Francisco, one of the most visually stunning cities in the States, Kampic’s tension began to ease.
“It wasn’t a movie, it was really epic,” Kampic said with a thick slavic accent, recalling her approach, looking over the bay. “I was like, Why was I even sad? This is a new adventure.”
This optimistic, open-minded attitude is a specific trait coaches at Boise State look for.
It’s a huge risk to bring in international athletes because of home-sicknesses. Investing time and, of course, lots of money into student-athletes who don’t pan out is not a habit the Bronco athletic department is trying to get into.
Even the athletes are aware of this risk.
“It’s hard to recruit people because it’s a lot of risk when you decide to go. You leave everything behind that you have back home,” Kampic said. “You want a person who’s good but also willing to come.”
Not only is home-sickness a worry for coaches, incoming student-athletes’ academic prowess is always a question of concern.
“The U.S. is unique in its way where kids are always having to go to school and keep a standard to be athletically eligible. That’s not always the case internationally,” said Assistant Basketball Coach John Rillie, who happens to know a tremendous amount about making the transition to the States from Australia.
Many of the incoming international student-athletes are coming from sports academies or institutes that they’ve been attending from a young age. These institutes are designed to give local talent an opportunity to improve on their athletic abilities and don’t always focus as much on academia. Though in some cases the experiences at these academies help to smooth the transition into college. Such is the case for freshman basketball player Anthony Drimic who attended the Australian Institute of Sport for two years prior to enrolling at Boise State.
“My first year at the AIS (Australian Institute of Sport) I had school, basketball and all that at the same time. It’s like living on a campus, so it was pretty much exactly the same,” Drimic said.
Time management is a key attribute that Drimic found to be necessary for balancing school and athletics.
Another wrinkle that can potentially hurt international athletes in their quest to remain eligible is their amateur status. Especially when it comes to basketball in Europe, many school systems don’t have the resources to maintain an athletic program, forcing athletes to join clubs or sometimes professional teams. And since talent is not always abundant in these areas, sometimes the only decent competition is at the pro level.
According to NCAA regulations, “You are not eligible for participation in a sport if you have ever: (1) Taken pay, or the promise of pay, for competing in that sport. (2) Agreed (orally or in writing) to compete in professional athletics in that sport. Or (3) Played on a professional athletics team defined by the NCAA in that sport.”
Unfortunately, many international athletes are completely unaware of these rules and find themselves ineligible when trying to participate in the United States at the collegiate level.
Boise State and its compliance office are very aware of the pitfalls of international recruiting. Last September, the NCAA announced several sanctions that stemmed from violations by the men’s and women’s tennis teams, the men’s and women’s cross country/track and field teams and the football team.
Violations that involved the women’s tennis team involved the early arrival of international athletes who were not yet eligible because they were not academically qualified to enroll full-time. In one case an athlete was competing before even being enrolled in school.
This resulted in the NCAA imposing a two-year prohibition on the women’s tennis as well as men’s and women’s cross country/track and field teams from recruiting international players. It also reduced the number of scholarships available for the women’s tennis team from eight to five for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons and left the team ineligible for postseason play for that same span. The university also paid a $5,000 self-imposed penalty for allowing ineligible athletes to participate in university sanctioned sports.
During the investigation, when Boise State learned of the violations it decided to fire the majority of the women’s tennis coaching staff, including the head coach. Sanctions were also imposed on the football team. In total five sports were reprimanded for a “lack of institutional control” which led to the firing of 31-year athletic director, Gene Bleimaier.
While the risk of recruiting international student-athletes remains high, it hasn’t stopped the athletic department from its constant search to discover hidden talent.
Currently, Boise State is home to 31 international student athletes from 14 different countries, which makes up a little more than 6 percent of our athlete population. This percentage is about average for the region, with the University of Idaho being on the high-end (8.9 percent) and the University of Oregon slightly lower (4.7 percent).
While the U of I may have a higher percentage, it gets a vast majority of its international athletes from its close neighbors to the north. With the ability to travel and recruit in nearby British Colombia and Alberta, the Vandals have taken to finding talent from the Canucks.
The internationalization of recruiting is not something that seems to be going away anytime soon. In a USA Today article published in 2008, it showed women’s ice hockey, women’s tennis as well as men’s tennis to be the sports with the highest percentages of international athletes. Women’s ice hockey and tennis were found to be made up of 50 percent international athletes with men’s tennis having 38 percent international participants.
This can be exemplified in the Bronco tennis programs which have the highest percentage of international athletes of any sport on campus with nine out of the 17 athletes being from outside the U.S.
The days of recruiting within a 50-mile radius of campus are over. Athletic talent is being scoured for all over the globe, and in order to remain at a competitive level, programs like Boise State are finding that they need to use a few frequent flyer miles to find their diamonds in the rough.
Where do they all come from?
Rory Connop: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Football
Lexie Der: Burnaby, B.C. Canada. Basketball
Taylor Loffler: Kelowna, B.C. Canada. Football
Diana Lee: North Vancouver, B.C. Canada. Basketball
Christie Raininger: Ajax, Ontario, Canada. Swim and Dive
Mike Atkinson: Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Football
Kurt Felix: St. Davids, Grenada. Track and Field
Maria Santisteban: Tampico, Mexico. Golf
Jenna Leurquin: Waterloo, Belgium. Golf
Scott Sears: London, England. Tennis
Andrew Bettles: Somerset, England. Tennis
Elliot Hoyte: Travistock, England. Football
Eetu Vitala: Kuortane, Finland. Track and Field
Manuela Pietzuch: Hechingen, Germany. Tennis
Marlena Pietzuch: Hechingen, Germany. Tennis
Quinten Henneham: Zwijadrecht, Holland. Track and Field
Geraldo Bouldewijn: Amsterdam, Netherlands. Football
Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe: Amsterdam, Netherlands. Football
Sonia Klamczynska: Warsaw, Poland. Tennis
Sasa Kampic: Kranji, Slovenia. Track and Field
Emma Dahlquist: Jonkoping, Sweden. Golf
Nathan Sereke: Stockholm, Sweden. Tennis
Jennifer Henningson: Stockholm, Sweden. Golf
Anthony Drimic: Endeavor Hills, Victoria, Australia. Basketball
Igor Hadziomerovic: Melbourne, Australia. Basketball
Sandy Vo: Melbourne, Australia. Tennis
James Meredith: Christchurch, New Zealand. Tennis
Damian Hume: Johannesburg, South Africa. Tennis