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Nov 202014

There’s an inability to discuss a true epidemic to the American Collegiate system: Foreigners in the NCAA. For some unknown reason, it’s frowned upon to discuss why we allow foreigners into the NCAA Cross Country and Track system without getting a stern look and elbow in the ribs by some. With others, it’s like a secret society where once we find someone with the same common belief, we award each other with high fives and 5 minutes of running jargon is soon to follow.

Before I sound like I’m ranting, the purpose of writing an edgy opening line(s) for any article is to gain the readers attention. Goal accomplished if you read this far.

And before I go further, please keep in mind, this is me on the internet:


That being said, I do believe there can be possible exceptions to allowing foreigners in the collegiate system. However, that will take place in another write-up.

(*Flashback to the times of LIVESTRONG bands, cargo shorts, popped collars, and of course, when Nickelback was ‘apparently’ popular* … to the Deaf)- As a young pup, I saw many foreigners, all of which I knew received full rides to come to the NCAA. I personally did not know of one foreigner that did not receive a full ride. Remember, a full scholarship also includes a $1000 check each month. If you’re a mathematician or have a 9th grade education in mathematics, like I gladly passed… as a college freshman (kidding, mostly), you will quickly find out one will make money on a full ride. The $1000 is to be used for food and living. Obviously, many shopped smartly and pocketed $400-600 a month.

Are there foreigners paying their own way or partially? I’m sure. I’m just not familiar with them. Some of these runners had incredible work ethics, some not so much; some were cool, some were not. Some of these runners became long-time friends. It varied just like any American runner.

Even at a recent cross country meet, a young Welsh runner came over to talk to me, and after having a 30-minute discussion with him, I was fairly certain having a kid like that on the team was only an upside to any team’s environment. He was a hard worker, outgoing, and most importantly, positive (even after an off race). However, that doesn’t constitute giving away an American scholarship originating from American tax payer money to a foreigner who will likely return back to his own country.

Common Argument Forth by NCAA Coaches  1.)

“You don’t know what kind of life the foreigners have had.”

It’s borderline discrimination to assume a foreigner of this descent or another has automatically had a worse life than an American. However, to play devil’s advocate, if we presume this is true, then we can accept tolerance for the countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia coming to the NCAA. But, that would give zero tolerance policy to any European countries that already have the same resources.

Most of the Africans did not have the same opportunities we had growing up, but like I learned in high school chemistry, “There’s exceptions to each equation (person).” Generally speaking, the opportunities where Kenyans/Ethiopians come from are not consistent to any European, which makes it hard to validate allowing ANY Europeans, and so forth coming to the NCAA system on a full ride (and factoring in such countries like New Zealand and Australia too). In short, Europeans are already entitled to virtually the same opportunities as Americans.

Common Argument Forth by NCAA Coaches  2.)

“Run faster to earn said scholarship over foreigners.”

Which begs the question: How is it just and fair for an 18-year-old American to compete with someone much older, more physically developed than themselves, let alone having 3-10 years on them in terms of training?

That brings me to the logical reasoning: recruiting foreigners that are older in age are at a significant advantage in receiving the scholarships that Americans would receive. Perhaps, a more suitable age limit?

cancelled dreams


Full rides aren’t common in distance running, and again I’m sure it exists, but every foreigner I knew was on a full ride. I knew very few Americans on a full ride. In order to obtain a runner from overseas, it’s typically all in or not.

Setting aside 15 minutes to think of some foreigners I personally knew as teammates, and others from the teams I encountered in the NCAA, I have a list of 27. The average age from 19 of those 27 that I knew their age when they entered college as Freshmen: 21. Not just Kenyans, but mostly British athletes. It’s fairly common for British runners to take a couple more years to train post high school until marks are made to enable them to receive full rides.

Perhaps, the American system is at a disadvantage, as it’s not the norm to train post high school nor is there resources available to do so — presenting us another disadvantage. Remember, once an American starts college, even if he doesn’t run for a team or any team for that matter, his eligibility clock starts ticking. I do feel this problem is partially the NCAA’s fault.

Fairly Common Ideologies:

“The notion that you can earn more scholarship money,” which does happen, but it’s far from common practice by most coaches. However, once offered a large scholarship, I’ve seen it less common to lose said scholarship for poor performances than for a scholarship to increase, regardless of performance. That’s common psychology. Remember, runners don’t instantly improve, some may take 1, 2 or 3 years to improve to a scholarship earning standard. Not to mention, the risk of getting injured along the way always exists. After it’s all said and done, it may take upwards of 20-80% of the college training time until the scholarship is increased and the opportunity has mostly passed.

If I were in their foreigner’s shoes, receiving a full ride would be a dream come true and I would obviously take it. The problem is in the coach’s corner.

A coach offering said full rides to foreigners can cause a waterfall effect for Americans by inhibiting their running pursuits and the chance for a cheaper education. However, I am saying that if a foreigner wants to run for the NCAA, they are free to do so… just at their own costs.

Common Argument Forth by NCAA Coaches  3.)

“I’m looking for runners that meet our team profile.”

Fallacy in said argument: there are 318,000,000 people in our country. 318 million is a fairly large population to choose from. So much so that it outnumbers the countries we most heavily recruit from (combined), in terms of collegiate runners: Kenya (41 million), Ireland (4.58 million), Ethiopia (86 million), Britain (53 million), Scotland (5.295 million), Wales (3 million), Canada (35 million). The combined total of said countries: Just over 228,000,000. Which pales in comparison to our 318,000,000 by roughly 90,000,000.

All arguments for collegiate coaches using, “I’m looking for runners to meet our team profile,” becomes void.
A fair comparison: American jobs being outsourced outside the U.S. is greatly frowned upon. However, bringing foreigners into the NCAA and using American tax payer money that goes into athletic scholarships that would be otherwise pay for an Americans is not frowned upon to an open extent.

If a coach is fully secure in his coaching ways, why not recruit Americans and offer them the full rides? Or, at the lesser end, increase scholarships? If a coach can have the patience to micromanage the runners development, secure in his ways, then they too can get the positive outcomes received. That is, if they know what they’re doing.


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  2 Responses to “An Epidemic in the NCAA?”

  1. I agree whole-heartedly with you, Clay!! I think you made some sound arguments. Good read!

    • Clay,

      A full ride is not always $1000 per month living stipend on top of tuition and books. It depends on the University you attend, conference, and coaches’ discretion. I know a few at a school we both attended who did not receive $1000/mo while you were there.

      To your arguments:

      1) Not a common argument from my experience with major or even minor programs in the NCAA.

      2) Yes. Run faster. Foreigners in the NCAA increase the overall competitiveness of a program, conference, and division. This allows people to more fully develop and fosters the growth of future Olympians. Runners like Dathan Ritzenhien, Ryan Vail, Bobby Curtis, Chris Solinsky, etc. all benefited from having high levels of competition. Many of them even benefit from having foreign teammates who can push them to levels they had never thought possible.

      Also, foreign athletes have the same age restrictions as American athletes. Their NCAA clock starts at 21, then they have 5 years to compete. So if an athlete enters college at 24, she only can compete until she is 26. Plus, we both know most foreigners are not vastly older than Americans competing in the NCAA.

      3) Also not a common argument. Come on bud, don’t make straw men.

      Many coaches bring in foreign athletes who they develop and turn into great athletes… Allistar Craig ran at in the 15:00s for the 5k at SMU before transferring to Arkansas and becoming an NCAA champ and Olympian. You are pushing the fallacy that all foreigners are ready-made world-beating machines. They are human and can be beat. Putting them on an athletic pedistal is what makes them unbeatable.

      Talent is talent and people are people. I would not give up the mix of Americans and foreign athletes I’ve had on teams. Being exposed to foreign cultures and ideas is what college is about. It also has the added benefit of making you a more well-rounded person.

      The NCAA is the center of amateur athletic competition. It is a showcase of the greatest talents in the world. I say we keep it that way. Keep the foreigners around.


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