A group of at least 19 recruits is expected to join coach Dan Hawkins` football program on national signing day Wednesday. Combined with two players who signed early and enrolled in spring semester classes, Hawkins should have at least 21 new players to watch over next fall.
If recent history is any indication, a significant percentage of those players won`t remain with the program for four or five years and complete their eligibility. Some might not get into school at all.
Attrition might be the single biggest problem that has dogged the Colorado program over the past decade under two coaches.
At least 79 players --- an average of nearly eight per year --- over the past 10 recruiting classes either never were cleared academically or did not complete their eligibility at CU.
It`s a problem Hawkins, his boss, athletic director Mike Bohn, and others in the department have been trying to change by recruiting players with better academic track records so they experience less culture shock when they get to a campus without physical education credits or general studies degrees.
"With the NCAA`s new APR criteria it`s essential for us to find the right young men who are outstanding football players but who also meet the academic requirements of the institution for us to be successful," Bohn said.
Bohn said he believes a significant percentage of the attrition in the decade was related to the coaching change or events that led to the coaching change that brought Hawkins to Boulder in December 2005.
There has also been a relatively high attrition rate in the men`s and women`s basketball programs during the decade. Bohn said a significant rate of turnover in the staff of the entire athletic department occurred during the decade, which only makes it harder to do an effective job retaining student-athletes.
"It certainly adds to that challenge," he said. "However, by no means are we trying to make excuses. The fact is there are some unique issues that are associated with Colorado that I believe we are all getting our arms around and making progress with."
Not every football recruit is going to be a top-notch student, and that leads to some of their football careers in Boulder ending prematurely or not starting at all. Just last year, three of Hawkins` 2009 recruits were deemed academically ineligible.
One has since been cleared and was finally allowed to enroll this spring. Another recruit missed much of training camp in August while he rushed to complete an online course through Adam`s State college.
Once they are in the program, many factors can play a part in them leaving the program. Some are seeking more playing time. Some decide to move closer to home. Others have problems off the field that lead to their departure. But regardless of those realities, Hawkins and his staff have to find ways to be more successful in retaining the players they recruit if they hope to be retained as coaches.
Yet, the problem did not begin with Hawkins` arrival. It continued.
Former coach Gary Barnett signed 25 players to scholarships in 2000, completing one of the best classes assembled during the decade. But eight of those 25 players didn`t complete their eligibility with the Buffs, including quarterback Craig Ochs and running back Marcus Houston, two of the most ballyhooed members of the group.
Barnett signed 23 more prospects in February 2002, just a few months after winning the program`s only Big 12 championship and finishing the regular season ranked in the top-10. But a whopping 15 players in the class did not complete their eligibility with the program.
Another 25 players --- the equivalent of one full recruiting class --- from the 2003, 2004 and 2005 classes either never made it to Boulder or did not complete their eligibility.
Hawkins welcomed 22 players into the program in February 2006 two months after being hired. Some of those players were recruited by Barnett. Some were added by Hawkins. A dozen of them did not complete their eligibility in the program. Ten members of the 2007 recruiting class left the program early and four members of the 2008 class --- ranked No. 15 in the nation --- already have left, including the two highest rated prospects, Darrell Scott and Lynn Katoa.
Hawkins and Bohn have tried to ramp up support of all kinds for student-athletes once they get to Boulder and are part of the program.
The level of academic support has been increased over the past four years but is still not where they would like it to be in terms of the number of tutors and advisers spread between the department`s 300-plus student-athletes.
The department also added a fulltime counselor whom student-athletes can speak to confidentially about any problem they are experiencing.
So far, their efforts haven`t stopped the attrition rate in football. In the past 13 months, nine scholarship players have opted to transfer from the program.
It is certainly not a challenge unique to Boulder or the Buffs. College coaches across the nation in all sports deal with player attrition in their programs every year, but the problem has played a big part in the recent struggles of Colorado football.
CU has consistently fielded teams lacking in depth and experience during Hawkins` four seasons at the helm. There have been many Saturdays when the Buffs ran on the field with only 65-75 healthy scholarship athletes instead of the 85 allowed by the NCAA.
CU did not have a senior start a game on its offensive line in 2009 for the first time since 1998. Of 264 starts at all positions in 12 regular season games, only 57 were made by seniors last fall.
Hawkins will have more experience next season because of the high number of underclassmen that have played in the past two years, but there will only be 17 seniors on the team (one in his sixth year), provided there is no further attrition.
Spond picks Notre Dame
Columbine`s Danny Spond, who initially committed to Colorado, but decommitted in the fall, has indicated he will sign with Notre Dame on Wednesday.
The quarterback/linebacker visited Notre Dame over the weekend and gave his verbal commitment to the school.
The four-star athlete will likely play linebacker at Notre Dame.