Texas Wesleyan has lost more than a third of its football team after its first season in 75 years.
Fifty players from last year’s 1-10 squad (the one victory was by forfeit) will not return, including nine because of financial reasons.
Coaches and administrators say the turnover is part of NAIA football, where scholarships are limited to 16 and players endure unglamorous bus rides for road trips and play in stadiums likely smaller than what they had in high school.
Because coaches had only 16 scholarships to spread among their 131-man roster, many players applied for federal student aid — grants, loans and work-study — to cover the annual $43,664 cost at Texas Wesleyan.
“I guess they were star struck and I don’t know what they thought because we put the estimate right in front of them," coach Joe Prud'homme said. "Some of them just thought they’d make it up at the end or ignored it, but we go over that sheet. It’s pretty clear – here’s your estimated cost.”
But in an episode of Titletown, TX, the Star-Telegram's video series chronicling the Rams' return to football, Prud’homme is shown responding to a recruit’s mom when asked, “Are y’all giving him an offer.”
“Yes, he’s got an offer from us,” Prud’homme responds.
But the “offer” is to allow him to continue playing football in college. It’s not a full-ride offer, Prud’homme said, like the University of Texas or Texas A&M offers players.
“That’d be nice. We don’t have that,” Prud’homme said. “They ask, ‘Do you have an offer?’ I say, ‘Yes.’ But what you don’t see on camera is then I explain the entire process. What your aid will consist of — academics and [financial aid] and then if football fits in, then we do it. That kid actually ended up going to West Texas A&M. We have actually told kids this doesn’t make sense for you. This is going to be too much of a burden. Sometimes kids hear what they want to hear.
“We want every kid to be a good fit for us and, conversely, us to be a good fit for them. There is no major here called football. So I always ask, ‘Where do you see yourself in 10 years?’ I know what you’ll look like in two years. But, down the road, are you going to be doing what you’re supposed to do or meant to do?”
Players who left because of financial reasons did not respond to interview requests.
For Prud’homme, the tuition costs serve as another hurdle in getting the program off the ground. But he remains optimistic.
Prud’homme acknowledged he parted ways with offensive coordinator/ recruiting coordinator Calvin Powell, who is now at Lyon College in Arkansas.
“There were some things,” Prud’homme said. “Basically needed to go in a different direction at offensive coordinator.”
Powell simply said: “I was not retained by Joe Prud’homme.”
Powell seemed somewhat surprised when told 50 players had left the program. He also addressed the financial concerns when recruiting a player.
“Nine out of 10 guys are going to be paying something, either through loans or making a monthly payment, and that part is difficult,” Powell said. “You’ve got to make sure they understand that part of the process. Just because you’re playing football doesn’t make it free.”
Despite the significant turnover on the team, Prud’homme is excited about where the program is headed.
“We’ve got a really good core to work with,” Prud’homme said. “Fifty players leaving … that number looks big on the surface and it is. There’s no way to minimize it, but it’s just part of NAIA ball.”
The NAIA does not keep track of athlete turnover, according to a spokesman at the national headquarters in Kansas City, Mo.
Of the 50 the football program has lost, 21 remain enrolled in school, according to John Veilleux, the school’s vice president for enrollment, marketing and communications.
The others left the team for a variety with reasons, including nine students for financial reasons, nine to play in different programs and others possibly because of grades or family issues.
Veilleux said all students, not just football players, meet with a financial-aid counselor to understand the process.
“It’s expensive to go to school here,” Veilleux said. “We say to some kids, look, it may be better for you to stay at community college when you’re looking at the gap that some of those students may have. We counsel them. We don’t want any student coming here who thinks financial is going to be an issue.
“Some students, maybe football players, maybe baseball players, maybe regular students, they’re so excited to be here that they don’t care. They’re so excited to play football that they don’t care, but they have to show the ability to pay. It does us no good to get somebody in the door that doesn’t pay the bill.”
When Wesleyan announced two years ago that it was bringing back football, officials said they expected the sport to help increase its enrollment, which stood at 1,867 undergraduates in the fall of 2016.
Since 2008, 41 small colleges and universities have added football or plan to add the sport by 2019, according to the National Football Foundation.