When freshman Marty Ward quit the Cal State Dominguez Hills men's 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.
It's not that the 6-foot-5 Ward, who left for religious reasons, was considered the greatest gift to a basketball program. But his rebounding ability was expected to complement three returning starters on a level where there are no Danny Mannings or Patrick Ewings.
Ward's sudden departure two games into the season is not an uncommon occurence in the CCAA and at other Division 2 colleges, coaches say.
"Lots of kids on this level . . . say 'to heck with it' and quit," UC Riverside Coach John Masi said.
As the 1988-89 season began at CCAA schools: 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 to.
The basketball program at Dominguez Hills is considered by coaches to be one of the most fundamentally sound on the Division 2 level. Still, Ward is one of seven players to quit the basketball program there in the last three seasons. And a starter on this year's team says he is certain he will quit at the end of this season and transfer to a school that has more to offer in his major, physical therapy.
Players have a variety of reasons why they do not return or quit in mid-season. In the case of Dominguez Hills, two players quit for physical reasons, two for religious reasons, one failed to keep his grades up after marital problems, another resigned early this year because he was not playing and one transferred to a Division 1 basketball program.
Coaches say the Dominguez Hills situation shows the frustrations they encounter when recruiting players to play on the Division 2 level.
"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 the Division 2 level.
Division 2 coaches point to four reasons why the retention rates of their programs are a problem:
Lack of prestige at Division 2--Ward, a Jehovah's Witness, said his sudden decision to drop out of school to preach would have been "much more difficult" if he were at a Division 1 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 2 players, most kids would rather be (sitting on the bench) at a Division 1 school."
Less incentive to play--Small crowds and less newspaper exposure make it easier for bench warmers to leave. Explained Cal State Northridge assistant Rusty Smith, a former star at El Camino College near Torrance: "It takes a year or so for (high school) players to come in here and make an impact. They don't realize how really 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)."
Funding--At privately funded Chapman College, which is considering a drop to Division 3, a scholarship is worth about $14,000 a year. That is a lot of money, but consider that Cal State Dominguez Hills has less than $12,000 in its total recruiting and scholarship budget. Yanai provides funds for only certain athletes, and most of that money goes for books and tuition. In addition, coaches say, athletes are so busy with basketball and school work 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," Yanai said. "It's a plight we are all in at Division 2s."