PSAC coaches recruit more than athletes
Coaches in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference do more than strategize, recruit or teach fundamentals.
They're often fundraisers.
East Stroudsburg men's basketball coach Jeff Wilson divides his year into segments. Aside from on-court coaching, he said his biggest responsibilities are recruiting and reaching out to potential donors.
Because scholarship money at PSAC schools cannot come from their state-allocated funds, members of the athletic department must chip in to raise it themselves.
“From March until August, one of my primary responsibilities is talking to donors, taking them to lunch, taking them to dinner, maybe playing golf, sitting down with them and having a conversation,” Wilson said. “That takes time.”
Wilson said he will write down names at the beginning of the month and set a goal of contacting each person.
Although he sets financial goals for himself and his staff, he refuses to openly ask for money. Instead, he talks about current players and offers updates on the program.
Examining a five-year period between 2009-14, Wilson's program finished first or second among PSAC East men's basketball programs in scholarships raised, averaging 5.05 per season.
Two of the men most frequently credited for perfecting this way of doing business are former Cal (Pa.) football coach John Luckhardt and former IUP football coach Frank Cignetti Sr., retirees who remain close friends.
When Cignetti, now 76, took over at IUP in 1986, he “identified five or six businesses in the Indiana area or individuals who could make major contributions to our program.”
More money poured in when Cignetti sold signs around the field for $5,000 each and tried to get individuals to set up endowments.
As the budget got bigger, so did IUP's reputation on a national level.
Cignetti went 182-50-1 (.783) and had IUP ranked in the NCAA Division II Top 20 each season from 1986 to 2004.
IUP posted undefeated regular seasons in 1991 and '93 and made two NCAA championship game appearances under Cignetti, the program's all-time wins leader.
“We knew that if you wanted to be competitive on the national level, you weren't going to do it without scholarship money,” Cignetti said.
When Luckhardt took over at Cal prior to the 2002 season, he immediately implemented ideas that Cignetti put to work at IUP.
To this day, Luckhardt remains one of Cal's chief fundraisers for football and urges players to write letters to potential donors.
“He set the standard in the PSAC,” Luckhardt said of Cignetti. “When he took over in the 1980s, he changed the dynamic in terms of fundraising. He built a national program that no one else had in the league.
“I know I'm not the sharpest guy in the room, but I can figure out that if that's how (Cignetti) does it, you should probably try to emulate that.”