NCAA can effect change, but schools can't duck responsibility for recruits
Posted: Tuesday February 24, 2004 2:22PM; Updated: Tuesday February 24, 2004 3:07PM
As Bobby Knight can attest, NCAA president Myles Brand is smart enough to recognize when he's perched atop a P.R. disaster. Here's guessing it doesn't sit well for Brand to read of strippers, drunken parties and allegations of sexual abuse against females linked to the recruitment of hotshot teenage prospects.
This kind of crass behavior isn't confined to the University of Colorado campus, either. Nor has this garbage just started stinking up athletic programs. It has become so widespread and over the top that it can no longer be ignored.
Like any good corporate giant, the NCAA has sprung into damage-control mode. David Berst, the vice president for Division I and a highly respected guy, is heading a 12-person task force named Monday to study recruiting rules and offer corrective measures.
But where does the task force go and what does it recommend? Under review is the approximate 72-hour period when a recruit leaves for an official campus visit.
Berst says the goal is to consider rule changes that would "insure an adequate opportunity for the prospect to evaluate the academic, the campus, the social, the team and the community environment while also encouraging standards of reasonable conduct and establishing clearer accountability for actions attended to those recruiting activities.''
OK, but most agree the rulebook is already too thick. And the NCAA isn't about legislating morality. As it is, the NCAA sanctions programs for petty violations, while failing to raise a hand in cases where criminal behavior comes into play.
If players on a college team, for instance, visit a strip club and buy the underage recruits alcohol, it's not an NCAA violation unless a coach planned the excursion or went along for the ride. Well, what coach is that stupid?
Alcohol has long been a staple of recruiting trips, and college administrators and the NCAA know it. Apparently, the same is true of strippers; though it needs to be stressed that in both cases it's the host players who lead the recruits astray. This football-recruiting season alone, strippers reportedly entertained prospects while on official visits to Colorado, Colorado State, Colorado State, Houston, Northern Colorado, Rice and UNLV.
"I would have to think players bringing in strippers or taking recruits to strip clubs happens at more schools than it doesn't happen,'' said Mike Glazier, an attorney with Bond, Schoeneck & King, a Kansas law firm that represents universities on NCAA matters.
What should be done? A prominent basketball coach suggests nothing. He believes it's unfair to police the behavior of athletes and penalize teams when others don't face the same scrutiny. As an example, he says a prospective student can visit a friend in a campus fraternity, hit the strip clubs and drink himself silly.
It's a fair point. The difference, of course, is that adults are intimately involved in overseeing the athlete's recruiting visit.
Look for the NCAA to bring what Berst describes as "normalcy'' to the official visit. Transporting a prospect on a private jet is a bit much. Rather than a hotel room, it might make more sense to house recruits on campus, if space is available. It also would paint a truer picture of campus life to feed them in the cafeteria instead of the best restaurants in town.
The way the rules read now, recruits are to be entertained "at a scale comparable to that of normal student life.'' What's normal is open to wide interpretation, and NCAA investigators haven't bothered to enforce the rule for years.
"I agree the rules are vague,'' said Berst, formerly head of NCAA enforcement. "If the enforcement staff were to attempt to prove particular violations, it is often difficult to do with the words they have to work with.''
By all accounts, the burning issue here isn't with a kid ordering a New York strip, a lobster tail and grabbing three helpings from the dessert tray. Where the shenanigans come into play is when recruits bid adieu to the coaches and head out on the town with their host and some of the players.
Trouble, not surprisingly, hits after midnight.
"You could put a rule in that says after 10 at night, you take them back to the hotel," Glazier said. "If they want to go out, they can but your players are not to be with them. You make it a contact violation to be with them anytime after 10 p.m. That's the only way I can think of that they can regulate what is going on.''
Interesting idea and, hey, maybe it'd help cut into the lawlessness. But no matter the rules made or massaged, college coaches and administrators can't shirk responsibility for the prospects ushered onto their campuses. That's the risk of doing business.
Mike Fish is a senior writer for SI.com.