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Coppin State, Morgan State Stress Academics In Competition For Student-Athletes

October 16, 2014

While the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and the Southeastern Conference suck up billions of dollars in television money and major sponsor endorsements, the remainder of the collegiate sports world needs to be creative in doing everything it can to survive in the fiercely competitive universe of NCAA sports. 

Consider, for example, the more than 100 Historically Black Colleges and Universities nationwide. They are highly competitive, and much like Ivy League schools, the HBCU institutions stress academics above everything else.

Maryland is home to four HBCUs: Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. 

Coppin and Morgan have maintained a rivalry throughout the years, as both schools are based in Baltimore City, and both are part of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

Coppin's athletic director, Derrick Ramsey, and Morgan's media relations director, Leonard Haynes IV, know what it takes to be competitive while never losing sight of their main goal of cultivating complete student-athletes.

Ramsey and Haynes talked to PressBox about how they recruit, how they value scholarships and how HBCUs provide students with a unique college experience.

PRESSBOX: How challenging is it to recruit quality athletes to HBCUs?

Derrick RAMSEY: Some things never go out of style. If you look back at the legendary coaches of the HBCU like Grambling's Eddie Robinson and Florida A&M's Jake Gaither, they were able to win and to produce some of the greatest players in professional football, while at the same time, the majority of those young men got their degrees. Back then, those young men were, in many cases, the first people in their family to graduate from college. 

The young men and women we want at Coppin State in 2014 and beyond understand that we are developing the complete person not just the sports star.  

… Just look at the numbers. Four teams had a collective GPA of 3.0 or better during the spring 2014 semester (volleyball, men's basketball, men's track and field, and bowling). Our departmental GPA has enjoyed 12 straight semesters with a GPA of at least 3.0. Special credit goes to the women's volleyball team with a 3.698 GPA. They earned the highest overall team GPA award for the fourth consecutive semester. [In all,] 64.2 percent of Coppin State's student-athletes achieved at least a 3.0 GPA or better in the spring 2014 semester. 

So clearly, when we seek recruits to any of our sports teams, we are looking at kids who are both talented and smart. Any non-power conference school needs to be sure that scholarships go to the kids who want to be, in our case, at Coppin for all the right reasons. Scholarships are very, very precious here. 

Issue 202: Coppin State Student-Athletes
Five of Coppin State's 4.0 GPA student-athletes (Kandace Thomas, Candice Van Horn, Cindy Okpegbue, Carentxa Goede and Kendra Ireigbe) with Dr. Mortimer Neufville and director of athletics Derrick Ramsey. (Photo Credit: Courtesy of Coppin State Athletic Department)

LEONARD HAYNES: We are proud that in 2014, U.S. News and World Report ranks Morgan State as the 15th best Historically Black College and University. Our coaches want smart athletes, young men and women who are interested in getting a college degree and not just being part of our sports program. We are not a place where players come to be … for a couple of years and then turn pro. They realize that being at Morgan State is a four-year commitment. We are investing in making them a better, more rounded person. A young man or woman who signs to play a sport at Morgan knows before they go to their first class on campus that they are expected to work hard on the playing fields and in the classroom. If they aren't willing to make that commitment, then it is likely we will not be signing them to a scholarship at Morgan State. 

PB: So from a financial standpoint, you can't afford to give a scholarship to someone who does not buy into your program? 

DR: Exactly. It may sound cliché, but it really is all about recruiting quality people. We can't afford to waste one single scholarship because we field six men's sports and seven women's sports, so we need each scholarship to go to someone worthy of having it. We know that at some schools you have a five- or even a six-year program where kids may go to summer school to get their grades up or become eligible to play. We actually have students who may be here for four or five years because of redshirting, but they get their degrees in three years. 

LH: You can't always be 100 percent sure that when you recruit someone they will make it at Morgan State. But we have quality people like our football coach Lee Hull, basketball coach Todd Bozeman and all of the other fine coaches that more often than not find the quality people who are worthy of being at Morgan State. 

Issue 202: Morgan State Basketball
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Morgan State Athletics

PB: Does the rich history of the HBCUs help in your recruiting?

DR: Yes, without question it does. Our students have had parents, grandparents, extended family and friends that have attended either Coppin State or another HBCU institution. They know our schools have a wonderful heritage, outstanding professors, history-rich campuses, famous alumni and we can offer a tradition that students simply can't find at any other mainstream college. 

LH: Morgan State is known both nationally and internationally for our quality academics. As for sports, again our history puts us on the short list for any student-athletes looking to attend a HBCU. We were blessed with some legendary coaches like Eddie P. Hurt, who coached at Morgan from 1929 to 1959. He coached both football and track. Then came head football coach Earl Banks, who prowled the sidelines at Morgan from 1960 to 1973, racking up an impressive record of 96–31–2. He stayed on as the athletic director at the school from 1970 to 1983. He is the only Baltimore-based college coach to be elected to the College Football Hall of Fame [in 1992]. While at Morgan, he coached and mentored four Bears graduates who went on to earn induction into the NFL Hall of Fame -- Leroy Kelly, Len Ford, Willie Lanier and Roosevelt Brown. 

PB: When recruits look at a school, they look at facilities, alumni participation and community relationships. How do you rate in those categories? 

DR: Our state-of-the-art $136 million Physical Education Complex is home to our men's and women's basketball teams, indoor track and field, as well as women's volleyball. Additionally, we also have a 400-meter outdoor track, a softball field, tennis courts, a soccer field, an Olympic-size pool, two weight rooms, racquetball courts, two auxiliary gyms and a dance facility. 

We have a very passionate and active alumni group that is very supportive of us and [they] love our students. As for our business relationship with the community, the competition is fierce. Of course the Ravens and the Orioles along with the University of Maryland are the top moneymakers. People don't think of Baltimore as a college town, but with seven outstanding universities in the area, that is a great deal of competition. 

We work very hard to make sure the business community knows what is going on at Coppin State, but we are always inviting folks to come out and watch our events. Nothing helps you get your point across to the community better than if they come on campus and see our product up close and personal. 

LH: Hughes Stadium is a television-ready, plug-and-play stadium. It is state-of-the-art in every way. The stadium holds 10,000. It has synthetic turf and is surrounded by a mondo track [an all-weather track for running and field sports], and it rated as one of the fastest tracks on the East Coast.

Hill Field House is one of the top arenas in the MEAC conference. It holds 4,250, and it is home to our men's and women's basketball teams. Women's volleyball also calls Hill their home. In 2013, we did a total renovation to our tennis courts and there are plans on the drawing board to upgrade the softball field.

Our alumni are legendary for their participation with our sports and are very good recruiters in their own right. 

As for our relationship with the area business community, it is very good for the most part. But as is the case in all of college sports, we [want] to be creative and always thinking of new ways to promote our product to a very competitive college-sports community.

Issue 202: October 2014