Stricter guidelines curb lavishness of official visits
Posted: Wednesday January 30, 2008 1:36PM; Updated: Wednesday February 6, 2008 5:34PM
Look what you did, Willie Williams. You inhaled steak and lobster. You flew on a private jet and rode in a Cadillac Escalade. You stayed in a room called the Paradise Suite. You partied on South Beach.
You also ruined the official visit for every star football recruit to follow.
Thanks partly to your mouth-watering recruiting diaries, published in The Miami Herald in January 2004 when you, a linebacker at Miami Carol City High and were the nation's most sought-after recruit, the NCAA cracked down on the rock-star treatment afforded most star football and men's basketball recruits. During your visit to Miami, you accompanied Hurricanes players to a club called B.E.D. Now, recruits visiting some schools must be in bed by 1 a.m.
To understand how the official visit -- the two-day, all-expenses-paid trip that allows prospective athletes to see what a school has to offer -- has changed since your tour, Willie, consider the wildest part of the biggest visit weekend at Georgia this recruiting season. On the night of Dec. 6, some of the nation's top players gathered at the home of Bulldogs coach Mark Richt and played ping-pong. That's right, ping-pong.
"[Richt] is pretty dominant. He didn't lose the entire night," said Bryce Ros, a Kennesaw, Ga., tight end who will officially sign next week to play for a coach who apparently is the best American table tennis player since Forrest Gump.
Let's not pile on Willie, who has enough problems after he was dismissed in September from Louisville following an arrest on a charge of marijuana possession. While Williams' decadent diaries raised eyebrows, it was reports a month later of the bacchanals at Colorado that rang alarm bells at NCAA headquarters. The president of a Denver company called Hardbodies Entertainment Inc. confirmed that Colorado players had hired strippers on multiple occasions to perform at parties attended by recruits. Later that year, an independent investigation conducted for the Colorado Board of Regents found "evidence demonstrating that sex, alcohol and drugs were used as football recruiting tools by some player-hosts and possibly a football recruiting assistant."
The NCAA acted quickly, forcing schools to formulate and submit written policies that would govern official visits. It outlawed recruiting hostess groups, instead forcing schools to use the tour guides available to any prospective student. Private planes were banned along with personalized jerseys, "gameday simulations," swanky hotel suites and anything but a "standard" meal.
So did the rules, first enforced during the 2005 recruiting season, change anything? Yes and no. All recruits now must fly coach, which can put them at the mercy of the airlines. Recruits still get a chance to sample the nightlife at most schools, but they'll probably spend as much time touring academic-support facilities as they will touring the bar and house-party circuit. And while they'll be well fed, recruits shouldn't expect unlimited surf-and-turf for every meal.
Zebrie Sanders, a Clayton, Ohio, offensive tackle who committed to Florida State earlier this month, said he ate at a few restaurants on earlier official visits to Florida, Georgia, Louisville and LSU. He didn't order lobster, though. "It had to be on the menu," Sanders said earlier this month. "If lobster had been on the menu, I might have ordered it. I've never had lobster before."
Meanwhile, athletic department officials are happy they no longer have to drain coffers trying to impress the latest future Heisman Trophy winner. Brian Battle, FSU's associate athletic director for compliance, said the guidelines leveled the playing field and ended a costly game of one-upsmanship.
"[The rules] standardized things. It did away with the excessive nature of things," Battle said. "Everybody was playing by the same rules."
FSU received a black eye in 2004 when Williams said the Seminoles flew him from Miami to Tallahassee on a private jet and that he put "four lobster tails, two steaks and shrimp scampi" on FSU's tab at a pricey Tallahassee restaurant. Battle said Williams did not fly on a private jet -- he was the lone passenger on a commercial flight -- and he said Williams exaggerated his gustatory prowess. Still, the rule changes allowed the Seminoles to develop a more uniform visit policy. While teams with a smaller squad size still take recruits to restaurants -- think Chili's instead of Ruth's Chris -- large groups of football recruits eat at FSU's campus dining facility. Battle said the recruits' dinner is a simulation of the meal Seminoles players eat the night before a home game. On one night of the visit, recruits eat dessert at coach Bobby Bowden's house.