Recruiting Starts With Character

One of the biggest national stories in college football this year was the negative reporting of recruiting at Colorado. The football program has been accused of irregularities with particular emphasis on alcohol and sexual abuses. The response from Colorado's woman president, Elizabeth Hoffman, was to institute reforms designed to restrict the opportunity for such abuses.

To say that Colorado's problems got the attention of most other college athletics departments is an understatement. The NCAA is also examining national reforms. A task force has been looking into revising recruiting rules. It will report its findings to the Division I Management Council meeting Tuesday.

But this may be a case where the rules aren't to blame. It turns out that Colorado already had what are believed to be the most restrictive recruiting rules in the nation in place when the abuses took place.

As is often the case, it may be that rules are being implemented in place of common sense.

Alabama Head Football Coach Mike Shula said, "We all have to be very aware of what is going to happen in the 48 hours we have prospects on campus. We have to have control. We educate everyone who comes in contact with prospects on our campus. That means we educate our players, our coaches, our hostesses."

But, Shula added, "It starts with the kind of guys we bring in here. And I think we've brought in guys of good character. And I think we've got a pretty good group in charge of that. Randy Ross (Alabama's director of football operations, who coordinates on-campus visits) does a great job."

In addition to the scandal at Colorado, there was much attention on Miami prep linebacker Willie Williams, who was recruited by Florida, Florida State, Miami, Auburn, and Notre Dame. Because Williams wrote a column for the Miami Herald on his recruiting trips, he became something of a celebrity among those who follow recruiting. Williams was mostly interested in food, but indicated girls ("farm girls," in the case of Auburn) had been part of the package.

But Williams also proved to be the type "character" that Shula was perhaps alluding to. After Williams signed with Miami, it was learned he had been on probation during his recruiting "season" and that he put his status in jeopardy when he was arrested three times in one night on his recruiting trip to Gainesville.

Alabama has not been without sin in its recruiting past. One of the allegations against The University in its NCAA case was that at least one Bama player, said to have been defensive back Fernando Bryant, had hosted a party for prospects in which exotic dancers were involved. While viewing dancers may not rise to the level of sexual abuse, it was deemed a violation of the "extra benefits" clause of NCAA by-laws by the infractions committee.

Alabama's recruiting weekends are models of structure. Players and their host players and hostesses, along with family members and Alabama staff members, are on a rigid schedule for most of the visit. It includes meetings with representatives of the various schools within The University, meetings with position coaches, tours of facilities, meals (lots of meals), and a tour of Bryant-Denny Stadium that includes a trip to the lockerroom where a jersey with the prospect's name and number is on display and a JumboTron production featuring the prospects as Alabama players.

NCAA rules permit prospects a 48-hour official visit, meaning the recruit stays on campus for two nights. Colorado will now have to fit activities such as those at Alabama into a one-night stay.

The one-night stay is the most significant restriction Colorado's president has placed on her school's football program. Other new rules are:

Recruits will be supervised by their parents or a designated Colorado football coach; the involvement of current players as sole recruit hosts is discontinued, although there will be some interaction with current players; the only activities in which the prospect may participate will be those planned, approved and supervised by a coach; use of drugs or alcohol and violations of team rules, school policies, or laws is prohibited, as is attendance at private parties, bars or strip clubs; curfew is 11 p.m.; with specific exceptions, recruiting trips must be made in December or January.

An irony of the Colorado situation is that Colorado already had more restrictive rules than perhaps any other school regarding recruiting weekends. Prospects had a 1 a.m. curfew. Additionally, the prospects, their parents, and their high school coaches were sent letters outlining behavioral expectations prior to the visits. And Colorado's player-hosts had to sign a "behavioral contract" before hosting prospects.

It is not surprising that the situation at Colorado has resulted in varying predictions. Rocky Mountain News Columnist Bill Johnson wrote, "It doesn't take a genius to know that CU football, with the recruiting reforms the university instituted...to head off the national firestorm over alleged sexual and alcohol abuses, is dead. No kid with any football ability is going to sign up to play football at CU..."

But David Hansburg, director of football operations at Colorado, said, "The way I see it is other universities are going to follow us. I'm confident of that. We are on the cutting edge of recruiting. We are the leaders in how to do it the right way."

Actually, Colorado is only taking major steps in reform because of extraordinary inattention to "the right way" in its previous recruiting procedures (regardless of what rules were on the books).

Since rules can be broken, Mike Shula probably has a better handle on the problem. You start by recruiting the type players you don't have to have such stringent rules for.


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