Overcoming the Challenges of Running a Small College Basketball Program

Bryce Jacobson William Jessup NAIA eTeamSponsor Client
Expert Author

Dave Knoepfle – Team Fundraising Expert, eTeamSponsor interviewing Bryce Jacobson, Assistant Men’s Basketball Coach at William Jessup University

Author Bio: Dave is Chief Marketing Officer at eTeamSponsor the leading fundraising partner for teams. He has been helping schools raise money for their teams since 2022.



Read Time: 4 min

Updated: 3/14/2023

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$264 million dollars. That’s how much money is up for grabs in this year’s Division I men’s basketball March Madness tournament kicking off on March 14th (the women’s tournament kicks off on March 15th). $264 million is a lot of money1. This is especially true if you coach a basketball team in a conference outside of NCAA Division I like the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), the leading athletic association supporting four-year colleges and universities with small enrollments. The total budget for an entire year for every NAIA men’s basketball program in 2020 (the latest year that data is available)? About $83 million or $181 million less than the money being distributed to DI schools just during March Madness2!!

The $83 million NAIA men’s basketball budget comes to about $750,000 per school2 and is roughly 4 times less than a Division I men’s basketball program at $3,500,000 per school2. This imbalance in funding, exacerbated by the DI March Madness windfall, led us to ask what are the unique challenges of running a men’s basketball program in a conference like the NAIA and how the heck do coaches overcome these challenges?

eTeamSponsor Fun Fact

Did you know? the NAIA men’s basketball tournament starting March 13th was founded in 1937 by none other than the game’s inventor, James Naismith!

Bryce Jacobson William Jessup NAIA eTeamSponsor Client

It’s Thanksgiving 2022 and the William Jessup University men’s basketball team is on their way back to California from a tournament in Tennessee. They had the relative luxury of flying Delta Airlines on the way to the tournament but on the way home they are flying a discount carrier during the busiest travel season of the year. What could go wrong? At the tournament the team had successfully fended off their competitors on the hardwood, but they were now facing an even greater challenge – the Spirit Airlines bag weight restriction – which was significantly less than the one allowed by Delta, so half the team had overweight bags. With no budget for additional bag fees, what was the team to do?

This is one of the many challenges that Bryce Jacobson, Assistant Head Coach, faces every day helping run the men’s basketball program at Jessup University. Since 2019, Bryce has been a member of the coaching staff at Jessup – a small enrollment NAIA school of about 2,400 students in Rocklin, CA. Prior to Jessup, Bryce (a native Alaskan) was a student-coach for the men’s basketball team at University of Alaska-Anchorage and a coach at the high school and junior high school levels as well. During his ten plus years of coaching, Bryce has become an expert in the unique challenges of helping run a men’s basketball program at a small enrollment school like Jessup. On the eve of March Madness, I sat down with Bryce to learn more about his experience and learn about his tricks and tips for running a successful men’s basketball program.

Q:What is one of your biggest challenges at Jessup?

Bryce: “Recruiting is a major challenge as, until recently, we weren’t able to offer full-ride scholarships to our basketball recruits. In addition, we use a discount rate scholarship system where all aid provided to our team has to balance out to a set percentage. This means we face an uphill battle when trying to recruit athletes that may get offered full ride scholarships at other schools.”

Q: How do you overcome this recruiting challenge you face?

Bryce: “There are a wide range of things we do to overcome the challenge recruiting student-athletes to Jessup starting with promoting the success of our program (2022 NAIA tournament quarter finalist) and the quality of our campus and facilities. Facilities matter a lot to these kids to the point that I had a least two recruits at UA Anchorage that came there just so they could play in the (then new) 5,000 seat Alaska Airlines Center. Beyond that, we work hard to make a competitive offer to the student knowing that not everyone can get the best scholarship. For students that don’t get a full-ride, we provide opportunities for them to earn money to help offset living expenses working at our many camps throughout the year. Lastly, we have found having a developmental team is of great value, both in terms of helping us build our team for the future, and to provide more generous scholarship benefits to the varsity team, while still adhering to the scholarship discount rate system we use at Jessup.”

Q: How do you overcome budget limitations?

Bryce: Thankfully, Jessup covers most of our operating budget, but we still have to fundraise about 10-12% of our operating budget every year.  We rely on things like our Nike Summer Camp and the TeamFunder digital fundraising tool from eTeamSponsor to ensure we are able to travel and to help recruit the best talent for our team. I love eTeamSponsor because it is easy to set up and is like passive income running in the background. I have about 7 million things going on during the season and we don’t have 12 hours to sit at a car wash all day. Instead, we set up our TeamFunder campaign, get our team to send their donor requests via email and text, and eTeamSponsor handles the rest.  Since 2010, Jessup University has raised almost $400,000 with eTeamSponsor!

Q: With tight budgets, how do you ensure your student-athletes are properly nourished?

Bryce: Ha! It is a major challenge getting 19- and 20-year-olds to eat right! We have a first team All American at Jessup whose favorite food are Flamin’ Hot Cheetos! To overcome this challenge, we work together as a coaching team to provide nutrition counseling and personalized help to students who need it. Food inflation is a huge issue for us right now – a year ago we could feed the team for $200 to $250 – today we can barely get by for less than $300! To eat right on a budget, we have to get creative and a Sam’s Club membership is a must. On a road trip I’ll head straight to Sam’s right after we land to stock up on healthy snacks for the team. We try our best to avoid fast food and expensive airport food, instead we’ll look for deals at Chili’s or Applebee’s where a 2 for $26 deal can provide a relatively healthy and nutritious meal for two of our student-athletes.

Q: What are some of the unique challenges you face coaching at a small enrollment university?

Bryce: Beyond X’s and O’x, academics are the biggest challenge I face as a men’s basketball coach at a small enrollment university. Today I see young men struggling more with academics than women and that’s where our coaches step in to help ensure the guys have success coaches for their classes and even proctoring exams while we are on the road. We don’t have priority registration for athletes at Jessup so I have to stay on the guys about class registration so we don’t end up practicing at 8pm every day! To ensure nothing slips through the cracks the assistant coaches split the team up and each take responsibility for the academics for a smaller part of the team. We’ll actually sit with each of our guys and look at grades on their phones to ensure they are keeping up with classes.

Q: What do you like most about being a men’s basketball coach?

Bryce: “I’ve worked a number of jobs, including road construction in Alaska, and coaching is by far the most demanding job I’ve ever had because my responsibilities stretch beyond the court into the lives of my student-athletes. I have to be a great leader every day because, in some cases, the other coaches and I are the first good male role model the student athlete has had in their lives. For some of our student athletes, if they weren’t playing sports their lives would be very different – they would definitely not be going to college – or possibly even worse. On tough days I think back to a call I received a few years ago from a former high school athlete of mine. He was difficult to coach and was calling to say thank you for helping him as he was graduating from high school that day – if it wasn’t for your coaching I wouldn’t be graduating today – he told me. That is why I coach – to make a positive impact on the lives of these young men. Like I say, once you are one of my guys, you will always be one of my guys!”

Q: How did the Thanksgiving luggage fiasco resolve itself?

Bryce: “We did the math. 16 players and 3 coaches x 40lbs per bag = 760 lbs! There on the floor of the airport we did a mass repacking to get each bag under the limit and within a few minutes we were checked in headed back to California. No extra bag fees required!”


1 – nevadasports.net and eTeamSponsor calculation = 2022 share value of $2,033,322 per share (paid over six years) x 130 shares to be distributed = $264 million.

2 – U.S. Department of Education, Equity in Athletics Data Analysis

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