When freshman Marty Ward quit the Cal State Dominguez Hills basketball team two days before Thanksgiving, it left Coach Dave Yanai without the power forward he thought his team needed to be a contender in the California Collegiate Athletic Assn.
Not that the 6-foot-5 Ward, who left for religious reasons, was considered the greatest gift to the Toros' basketball program. But his rebounding was expected to complement three returning starters.
Sudden departures like that of Ward, who left two games into the season, are not uncommon in the CCAA and at other Division II colleges, coaches say.
"Lots of kids on this level . . . say 'to heck with it' and quit," said UC Riverside Coach John Masi.
Looking around the CCAA as the 1988-89 season began: Cal State Los Angeles lost seven players from its previous roster; Cal Poly Pomona five, including two who surrendered scholarships; UC Riverside four and Cal State Northridge two, both on scholarships. Cal State Bakersfield, last year's CCAA champion, welcomed back just one of three starters eligible to return. Only Cal Poly San Luis Obispo returned everyone it expected.
The basketball program at Dominguez Hills is considered by coaches to be one of the most fundamentally sound on the Division II level. Still, Ward is one of seven players to quit the program in the last three seasons. And a starter on this year's team has said he will quit at the end of the season and transfer to a school that has more to offer in his major: physical therapy.
Players have a variety of reasons why they don't return or quit in mid-season. In the case of Dominguez Hills, two players quit for physical reasons, two for religious reasons, one because marital problems hurt his grades and another because he was not playing. In addition, one player transferred to a Division I program.
Coaches say the Dominguez Hills situation points out the frustrations of recruiting players in Division II.
"If they can't play for Yanai, then they can't play for anyone," said Coach Dave Holmquist of Biola University, an NAIA power considering a jump to Division II.
Division II coaches cite four reasons for their low retention rates:
Lack of prestige. Ward, a Jehovah's Witness, said his dropping out of school to take up preaching would have been "much more difficult" at a Division I school.
Explained Cal Poly Pomona Coach Dave Bollwinkle: "It's a lot more difficult to quit the program at, say, Kentucky, and then go home and tell your friends about it, than it is to tell them you quit the team at Cal Poly Pomona."
Added Coach Henry Dyer of Cal State Los Angeles: "Most kids don't realize they are Division II players. Most kids would rather be (sitting on the bench) at a Division I school."
Fewer reasons to play. Small crowds and less news exposure make it easier for bench-warmers to leave.
Said Cal State Northridge assistant Rusty Smith, a former star at El Camino College: "It takes a year or so for (high school) players to come in here and make an impact. They don't realize how far behind they are. . . . They become disenchanted."
Others quit, then resurface at other schools. "The kids that jump ship from here to there are kids that usually have had problems," Yanai said.
With less to play for, basketball can become secondary. Said Holmquist: "As you get older, you tend to be not as excited to play basketball. You decide not to play anymore and to concentrate on other things (like friends and getting a job)."
Less money. At privately funded Chapman College, which is considering a drop to Division III, a scholarship is worth about $14,000 a year. That's a lot of money, but Cal State Dominguez Hills, in contrast, has less than $12,000 in its recruiting and scholarship budget. Yanai funds only some athletes, and most of the money they receive goes for books and tuition only.
In addition, coaches say, athletes are so busy with basketball and school work that they seldom have a chance for part-time jobs. "We have a situation where . . . they are waiting from one scholarship grant check to the next," said Yanai. "It's a plight we are all in at Division II."
Attitude problems. Division I universities, with larger budgets and better facilities, have more to offer touted athletes. Bollwinkle put it succinctly: "We don't have the pick of the crop."
Division II coaches have to be more selective with the leftovers, which, according to Yanai, means taking a player who might be "a little bit flawed. The kids we get, we try to screen very closely because of attitude."
A lot of athletes make a mistake when they accept a scholarship to a Division I school because they go thinking only about playing basketball, not about getting an education, said Cal State L.A.'s Dyer. "It's tough to convince the marginal Division I player that he should come here, play some basketball and have some fun."