IOWA CITY, Ia. — Olympic wrestling will have to wait. Tonight, Daniel Dennis is wrangling.
The former Iowa all-American, six weeks before heading to Rio de Janeiro to try to conquer the world, is in the seclusion of the Hawkeye wrestling room gamely instructing 36 boys ages 10-18 in the art of riding and pinning. The pupils come in all shapes, and attention spans.
“Don’t ever do that again,” Dennis pauses in mid-demonstration to admonish one pint-sized goof-off who is momentarily unconcerned that his parents have spent $365 to $525 for him to attend the three-day gathering.
Summer sports camp season is in full flower again at Iowa, bringing 3,500 to 4,000 children to the campus for instruction from Hawkeye coaches and athletes and a brief taste of life at a university athletic program. The kids swell the university’s dorms and cafeterias during an off-peak time, spending roughly $270,000 annually. Hawkeye athletes can earn some spending money for time spent as instructors and counselors. The coaches who run the camps pocket the rest of the revenue — $367,000 split among 43 of them last year — a long-running mini-economy during a rare lull period in big-money college sports.
Iowa offers camps in 18 sports, plus one devoted to speed and strength, though not all occur in the summer. Costs range from $40 to attend one of 10 single-day football camps to $2,000 to spend five days “rubbing elbows” with wrestling coach Tom Brands. NCAA rules prohibit using camps as overt tools for recruiting athletes, but the university certainly hopes to see future enrollment numbers increase as a result of the mass exposure.
“There’s no profit for the university on these. It’s really to the coaches,” said Josh Berka, the university’s assistant director of event management, who has overseen the sports camps for 11 years. “We have historically looked at it as promotion of our program, showcasing the university and our facilities. We’ve also taken the tack through the years that, even though the number of athletes that will attend the University of Iowa is small, the number of students that come in is much higher from these camps.”
Summer sports camps have been staples on U.S. college campuses for decades. Current Hawkeye coaches like Marc Long (swimming) and Brands have fond memories of being campers at Iowa in the 1980s.
Working the camp circuit has been a traditional way for younger coaches to network to try to land bigger jobs, and to supplement their income from their winter gigs.
Al Seibert started working basketball camps in 1983 and can remember exactly what he earned from his first one, for legendary Maryland high school coach Morgan Wootten — $91, after taxes. Seibert was the video coordinator on Fran McCaffery’s Hawkeye staff the past five years before being promoted to director of basketball operations this week. The video coordinator job didn’t include a contract, but its duties included handling many of the day-to-day logistics of Iowa’s three popular boys’ basketball camps, which netted Seibert $32,000 last summer. The rise in summer pay reflected Seibert’s changing status — from outsider trying to scratch together enough camp work to land a full-time gig to the guy on a major-college staff who keeps the camps running. It is traditional in men’s basketball for the coaches who draw the lowest salaries to get the chance to make the most at camps, provided they do the work, Seibert explained.
“It got your name out there, that was the concern then. It wasn’t, how much am I making? It’s hey, how can I build up my network?” said Seibert, who also has worked on coaching staffs at Western Kentucky and Hartford, among others. “You were happy to get the $91 because of the contacts you made there.”
Iowa’s three boys’ basketball camps attracted about 775 participants this year, and they are still a place where Midwest high school and small-college coaches can get some exposure and spending money, mimicking the path Seibert took 30 years ago. One thing that has changed, though, is that the ages of the campers tend to skew younger, Seibert said. He’s seeing more 13- and 14-year-olds and fewer boys ages 16 and 17, because they tend to be more involved with their AAU teams. Iowa no longer offers an “elite camp” for that reason.
“It’s more so the experience factor. Hey, I’m playing on the same court as Peter Jok, Aaron White, Jarrod Uthoff,” Seibert said. “The kids love it, and our players love it. They spend 45 minutes after camp signing autographs. It’s more about selling our image than recruiting.”
Iowa has seen a similar phenomenon in its girls’ basketball camps, which now consist of two offerings that last a single week in June. One is still branded as an elite camp, but assistant coach Jan Jensen said it’s more difficult to get highly skilled older teens to attend.
“They’re all busier. There’s just so many more options for a young person,” said Jensen, who has been running summer camps alongside Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder and assistant coach Jenni Fitzgerald for a quarter-century, going back to their days at Drake.
Then, the trio owned their camps, meaning they had to provide the food, lodging and insurance. It was fun, but a lot of work, Jensen said. And a necessity when all of your competitors have camps as well.
“It gives you the opportunity to meet a lot of kids, get your brand out there. It’s great public relations, I hope,” Jensen said.
At Iowa, overhead costs are handled by the university. The school charges a standard rate for the 2,300-2,400 campers who choose to stay in the dorms for the camps — $52.48 per night for a double room and three meals. There are also commuter options for less money. That on-campus price is set by the university housing department and approved by the Board of Regents, Berka said.
In addition, coaches who run camps have to rent their own facilities at the full public rate. For wrestling, for example, that’s $150 for four hours of use, plus $50 for each additional hour.
For the first time this year at Iowa, three sports — wrestling, volleyball and men’s gymnastics — decided to privatize their camps and handle the marketing and registration themselves. This is common at other universities, as it allows the camps to be branded by individual coaches and not just the college.
“If a sport really wants to pound the pavement and try to get as many kids in, that will probably reward them more for doing that,” Berka said.
JD Reive, Iowa's men’s gymnastics coach the past seven seasons, said he’s modeling his camp after ones he conducted as an assistant at Stanford. There are only 16 Division I men’s gymnastics programs in the country, so Iowa’s camp of 60 young athletes this month will hail from both coasts and Texas, as well as local hopefuls.
“We’re obviously the ones who are most versed in it because we’ve been running the program as a business for 15 years now. We control the website. We control the communication. The university was essentially the middle man,” Reive said of making his camp private.
“We run ours like a national team camp, a full seven days with three training periods each day. It’s legit. We don’t come here to kind of screw around. When people send their kids away and it’s expensive, we want them to learn something.”
In contrast, Long’s two coed swimming camps, which drew about 200 children this summer, consist primarily of Iowans. His focus is on teaching technical skills that can produce large improvements in times.
But he’s also aware that the kids are looking to have fun and so he organizes activities that allow them to spend some time on the football field at Kinnick Stadium and to explore Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Herky the mascot is a popular visitor.
“What I’ve learned over the years is, as great as we may think we are as a coaching staff, that might be one of the things they remember,” said Long, a former Hawkeye swimmer who has been the coach for 13 seasons.
Iowa’s slate of summer camps is by no means the most exhaustive, or most expensive, in the nation. In wrestling, Minnesota coach J Robinson has a large share of the market with 13 camps around the country, including a 28-day extravaganza in Wisconsin this month that costs $2,849. The University of Texas sold out four weeklong swimming camps this summer at a cost of $925-$1,025 per participant.
Long, who earned $31,000 from his camps last year, said he doesn’t want to bulk up his offerings.
“We could go bigger and certainly that would produce more revenue,” he said. “But I think it does have to be balanced with what we’ve got going on here, what we’re trying to do as a program, and we also have our own athletes to take care of.”
The NCAA provides oversight of all summer sports camps. The general guideline is that such camps are intended to be for skill instruction, not recruiting. Camps must be open to all children and universities cannot offer free or reduced admission to an athlete being recruited. Schools can’t pay a high school, prep school or two-year college coach based on the number of athletes that person sends to a camp. Coaches can’t make written offers of financial aid to camp attendees during the camp.
But there is an undeniable recruiting aspect to the camps. Young athletes who are trying to get a scholarship will visit universities that interest them, to get a feel for the coaching staff and the facilities. Coaches, in turn, know who those hopefuls are, even if nothing is said or put into writing.
Reive is aware of three gymnasts who will be attending his camp next week that are intending to try to join his team as walk-ons.
Long said he sees swimmers who have been making the rounds of summer camps. They’ll show up at his event with T-shirts from other Big Ten Conference schools and try to catch his eye early on with a standout performance.
“I have to tell some at the beginning to slow it down, that it’s a full week. I’m sure I would have been the same way, try to impress the coaches,” Long said. “It’s more of an intangible (for recruiting). Some of these kids may have gone to camp when they were younger and we’ll recognize the name later on.”
These days, with social media and a burgeoning year-round youth-sports culture, coaches are already aware of who the top athletes are, Iowa’s coaches agreed. No unknown comes into a summer camp and suddenly flashes Division I potential.
“If you’re a top-15 kid, we know who you are,” Reive said of his fellow gymnastics coaches. “But if you’re in that next group and you have to differentiate yourself, go to camp for a week. Get to know the coaches, and make yourself known.”
Brands said he knows the names of the nation’s elite wrestlers long before any of them may show up at his camps. He likes to get a feel for their attitude and work ethic.
“We’ve seen some kids that we really want to have in our program. And we’ve seen some kids that we thought we wanted to have in our program, and they didn’t work as hard as maybe you know that it’s probably going to take to really make it at the Division I level,” he said.
Brands said Hawkeye junior Thomas Gilman of Council Bluffs was someone he knew was good coming into camp, but it was the determination Gilman showed to get better during those few days that prompted him to later recruit the 125-pounder.
Iowa coaches can share the profits from their camps with their athletes who work at them. The NCAA allows pay that is “commensurate with the going rate for those with similar skills/abilities/experience.”
That translates to $200-300 a week for some Hawkeyes, most of whom don’t have time for other summer jobs.
“It’s only for three weeks. But what if you walked beans for three weeks? How much are you going to make?” Brands reasoned.
Some high-profile head coaches — such as football’s Kirk Ferentz or basketball’s McCaffery and Bluder — don’t get extra money for camp appearances. Such involvement is written into their contracts and can be a highlight for children who attend. McCaffery, for example, offers a father-son camp on Father’s Day weekend that this year brought in 130 pairs of eager participants. McCaffery was there alongside them, competing in skill contests with youngest son Jonathan.
McCaffery’s five assistants divided up more than $100,000 in camp money last year. Jensen netted $18,000, but said the urge to work more in order to earn more has subsided with rising salaries for coaches. Two camps are plenty, she said, especially with coaches being allowed to spend more time working directly with their own players in the summers. Only 14 Hawkeye coaches reported income in 2015 from working at camps or with clubs outside of the university.
Brands said he used to work more clinics in the summer but no longer feels the urge.
“I want to help my team,” he said. “I can make $300,000 doing camps. I don’t want to. When you’re a really good wrestler, people want to see you so they pay you a premium. When I got out of college, I was getting premium money for doing camps.”
Brands got $35,000 last summer from the six camps he runs at Iowa. His brother and assistant coach, Terry, made another $28,500. That’s enough, Tom Brands said.
“We’re not going to sardine these guys just to make money. We want them to have a good experience,” Brands said. “We don’t advertise or promote like prostitutes. We let our program speak for itself.”
As for his elite camp, the one that runs $2,000, Brands limited that to eight participants this summer. It was 12 last year, and he felt that was too many.
“They get hands-on, singled-out treatment from the best guys in our program,” Brands said. “They’re not always great wrestlers. They’re wrestlers that want the special attention, want the experience of rubbing elbows with Brands for a long period of time.”
Like gymnastics, Brands’ wrestling camps attract a nationwide pool of athletes. Such is the lure of a university that has won 23 national wrestling championships. Such is the lure of a coach in Brands, who was a three-time NCAA champion and an Olympic gold medalist in 1996.
Brands runs his camps much like his mentor, Dan Gable, did at Iowa. Before the first session of his first camp June 23, the one where Dennis provided the clinical expertise, Brands made an opening address. He introduced his entire current squad to the 36 youngsters and a handful of parents sitting in the bleachers. He told the boys that they would get as much out of the camp as they put into it, implored them to ask questions, warned them not to do anything stupid. Then exited.
Just like Gable, the longtime Iowa coach responsible for 15 of those Hawkeye titles.
“When I was here, it was awesome, it was magical,” Brands said of his time as a camper in the mid-1980s. “Gable didn’t teach a session but he spoke to a group the night before we left and it was unbelievable.
“I’m not going to tell you what it said, but I wrote myself a note in my book that night and I’ve still got it.”
OTHER INCOME FOR COACHES
Iowa’s coaches reported about $95,000 in athletically related outside income last year, according to forms they are required to fill out annually and have approved by athletic director Gary Barta.
Outside income is subject to NCAA guidelines but generally includes money earned by working sports camps or sports clubs (other than the institution’s), providing private lessons, or from endorsing or consulting with athletic apparel companies.
“Outside sources can’t pay or regularly supplement an athletics department staff member’s annual salary or arrange to supplement that salary for an unspecified achievement. Outside sources can donate money, but can’t earmark it specifically to go to a particular person. The school can make that decision,” an NCAA spokeswoman clarified to the Register. Coaches cannot work for or endorse recruiting services.
Assistant wrestling coach Terry Brands was the top outside earner last year, reporting $25,900 in income for working two camps and for a yearlong association with the Eastern Iowa Wrestling club. His brother, head coach Tom Brands, reported $16,500 in income from the Asics apparel company.
Gymnastics coaches JD Reive, Ben Ketelsen and Minyoung Kwon were next on the list, for work with a local club team owned by Reive’s wife, Doni Thompson. Reive reported $12,000 for “coaching and consulting” at Eyas Gymnastics club, while Ketelsen was paid $9,787.50 and Kwon $6,450.
Reive said his coaches work at the club five days a week, three hours a day in the summer to earn the supplemental income.
“We get to make some extra money, we get to hone our craft, plus if my assistant coach is developing a junior national team member who’s 10 years old, from a recruiting perspective in terms of the respect from the rest of the community, they’re like: ‘They know what they’re doing, that’s where I want to send my kid.’ So you’re basically creating your own jobs in that sense,” Reive said.
“There’s pretty clear conflict-of-interest policies. We follow all of their management plans and just file it with (the university). It’s no different than a professor who’s doing research on his own.”
Men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery claimed $2,156 from sales of his two books.
Most coaches reported no outside income.
— Mark Emmert
Iowa summer camp coaches’ compensation
Name | Sport | Payout
Tom Brands | Wrestling | $35,033
Al Seibert | Men’s basketball| $32,131
Marc Long | Swimming | $30,725
Terry Brands | Wrestling | $28,500
Billy Taylor | Men’s basketball | $25,798
Jan Jensen | Women’s basketball | $18,000
Sherman Dillard | Men’s basketball | $15,311
Andrew Francis | Men’s basketball | $15,311
Kirk Speraw | Men’s basketball | $15,311
Rick Heller | Baseball | $12,700
Dave Diianni | Soccer | $11,900
J.D. Reive | Men’s gymnastics | $11,738
Ryan Morningstar | Wrestling | $10,000
Jenni Fitzgerald | Women’s basketball | $9,500
Marty Sutherland | Baseball | $9,200
Scott Brickman | Baseball | $8,700
Larissa Libby | Women’s gymnastics | $8,000
Todd Waikel | Diving | $7,243
Jennifer Green | Women’s gymnastics | $7,000
Danielle Carlson | Volleyball | $5,000
Michaela Franklin | Volleyball | $5,000
Erica Demers | Soccer | $4,000
Frannie Malone| Swimming | $4,000
Megan Menzel | Women’s golf | $3,975
Tyler Stith | Men’s golf | $3,975
Kristy Brager | Swimming | $3,500
Brandon King | Swimming | $3,000
Caleb Phillips | Women’s gymnastics | $3,000
Abby Stamp | Women’s basketball | $3,000
Dan Holterhaus | Men’s golf | $2,925
Nathan Mundt | Swimming | $2,625
Chris Doyle | Strength & conditioning | $1,750
Lacey Goldwire | Women’s basketball | $1,500
Ben Ketelson | Men’s gymnastics | $1,500
Denise Dy | Women’s tennis | $1,404
Julie Hanley | Soccer | $1,000
Minyoung Kwon | Men’s gymnastics | $1,000
Zach Walrod | Strength & conditioning | $1,000
Ty Schaub | Men’s tennis | $750
Adrianna Baggetta | Softball | $524
Marla Looper | Softball | $262
Gabby Quiggle | Strength & conditioning | $250
Bill Maxwell | Strength & conditioning | $225