Across nearly every college campus in the United States are a number of international students, whether they are here to pursue a degree, participate in athletics, or both. Athletically, Mississippi College underwent a massive change recently that altered the entire system.
Since its inception, the Choctaws were a part of Division II in the NCAA. There, they showed great success, especially in football. A mere 25 years ago, however, the Board of Trustees voted for MC to continue their athletics at the Division III level as a member of the American Southwest Conference. During their time in the ASC, the teams compiled an impressive 25 conference championships in the 17 years MC spent at that level. With all their accomplishments, the NCAA accepted Mississippi College’s decision to return to the Division II level in 2014 as members of the Gulf South Conference.
Looking at the numbers, it shows that 2013 into 2014 saw the greatest increase in international players, the same time MC transitioned to Division II. One of the main factors into this dramatic increase is the fact that no athletic scholarships are offered at the Division III level. Since Mississippi College now offers them, it draws in higher level players, including international athletes.
At the current time, Mississippi College has 45 international athletes across all its sports programs. With the majority coming from the soccer programs, there also are others in the basketball, tennis, and golf programs to name a few.
For many international players, agencies in their native countries contact them about potential opportunities in playing in the United States for college and universities. It’s a process that works incredibly well for both the athletes and college soccer programs across the country. For others, however, it was a more complicated path.
“I was actually supposed to go to a different school in Austin, Texas, and I signed my letter of intent to go there. While I was in the process of getting my visa to go there, they cut the program due to COVID,” says Pawemi Kumwenda, a freshman from Malawi.
“I had a month to find a new school and the coaches at that old school knew the coaches at MC, so they referred me here. I had to reach out first, but they put in a word for me. That’s how I got to MC and I’m grateful to be here.”
In fact, the collegiate system in general attracts many international players because it “is so much better than anywhere else in the world. You don’t compete for university sports back at home,” states Olaf Conforti, a junior from Tasmania, Australia. “It’s also because you can get a scholarship for playing soccer while attending a university and compete at a good level.”
For Kumwenda, the draw to the United States’ system is “being able to play comprehensive, organized soccer and still pursue a degree. In most countries, if you want to train every day, have a training structure, and play competitive games, you have to play for a club. Most times, your club is completely separate from your school so it’s hard to try and balance both. The system of college soccer in the U.S. is really appealing to a lot of people who want to stay in school but still want to play because it works hand-in-hand, and you can get the best of both worlds.”
With the international players at Mississippi College reaching an all-time high, it will be no surprise that this will continue to grow because of the scholarships that Division II schools are able to offer and the level of competition in the Gulf South Conference.