The brutal consequences of high-pressure college recruiting became visible again last week, this time to confuse and blur both the past and future of Tom McMillen, the 6'11" basketball star from Mansfield, Pa. (SI, Feb. 16).
McMillen, who scored a record 3,608 points during his high-school career and was recently graduated first in his class academically, ended months of speculation—and the vain hopes of hundreds of college coaches—by signing an application for a grant-in-aid scholarship to the University of North Carolina. The next day his parents, Dr. and Mrs. James McMillen, said that they had not signed the agreement and objected to their son's decision. "That boy is not going with our blessing," Mrs. McMillen is reported to have said then. "He's known for months that we did not approve of North Carolina. No matter what they do or say, he's our son and he has a moral obligation to obey his parents. There are valid reasons why we don't want him to go to North Carolina."
Tom's father wanted him to attend Maryland, where an older brother, Jay, played on the basketball team two years ago and now attends graduate school. His mother felt Tom should go to Virginia where a longtime friend of the family and former Mansfield High coach, Bill Gibson, now coaches. Another brother, Paul, was a law student at North Carolina and lives in Chapel Hill. Paul was for North Carolina.
In the end, Tom McMillen made his choice of colleges by himself, and the family eventually said all differences had been resolved, that they approved of North Carolina and that it had been a "minor misunderstanding." (Despite reports to the contrary, Tom could attend North Carolina without his parents' consent, since his scholarship does not require parental approval.) Rival coaches accused North Carolina of recruiting violations, which happens every time a prominent schoolboy athlete finally gets around to selecting a college.
Yet all this is beside the point. A system that places such pressure on an 18-year-old boy and causes such widely publicized distress in his family, just so he can play basketball in this college instead of that one, is ridiculous and dangerous. Recruiting is becoming an ugly, obscene word. Dr. McMillen called the whole thing a "dirty, nasty business" and in this instance, certainly, he is the one who is right.
A report from Australia says there is a group of men in that country dedicated to the care of ex-rugby players who are in danger of falling by the wayside. The group is called Athletes Anonymous: whenever a member feels the dread urge to get out and play rugby again he phones a fellow AA who rushes over to the house with half a dozen bottles of beer and helpful words of discouragement.
So-called minor sports may get it in the neck at the University of Wisconsin, where a major effort is being made to bring athletic department expenditures more in line with funds available to the department. A State Bureau of Audit report on the fiscal year July 1, 1968-June 30, 1969 criticized the department's failure to correct defects in the physical condition of the athletic complex and its overabundance of personnel (" Wisconsin had more staff positions and paid out about 50% more in administrative salaries than any other conference member"). Athletic Director Elroy (Crazy Legs) Hirsch, who succeeded Ivan Williamson in February 1969, admitted, "We are overstaffed in some areas. I inherited a deteriorating situation. I have done everything in my power to rectify it, but it takes time."
Hirsch expressed hope that Wisconsin's football team, which has been terrible in recent years, will be so improved this fall that income-producing attendance at football games will rise sharply "and start solving our problems." Even so, there are indications that crew, golf, tennis and gymnastics may be dropped as formal sports ("Crew is a wonderful tradition at Wisconsin," Hirsch has said, "but we can no longer afford $40,000 worth of tradition"), and that baseball, track and field, wrestling and swimming will operate at a "reduced status."