Avoiding Recruiting Scandals

While most of the nation watches in personal disgust as allegations of recruiting improprieties continue to surface at the University of Colorado, collegiate officials around this state are monitoring the events on a professional level.

While most of the nation watches in personal disgust as allegations of recruiting improprieties continue to surface at the University of Colorado, collegiate officials around this state are monitoring the events on a professional level.

 "We all live in glass houses," said Rodney Garner, Georgia's recruiting coordinator. "You don't want to throw rocks. Right now, we've been pretty fortunate we haven't had anything come up."

 At Colorado, the district attorney's office has alleged Buffalo players provided recruits on official visits with strippers on numerous occasions and also threw parties at which recruits were enticed to come to the school with sex. The charges came to light after three women alleged in separate cases they were raped at those parties. Since then, at least three more women have charged a Colorado player or recruit with rape.

 Colorado officials have denied knowledge of any rapes or the use of strippers and sex to lure potential players. The rape allegations at Colorado make that case unique, and horrifying, but the thought that a potential player may be spending some of his time on campus in ways that are perfectly legal but wouldn't make his mama proud isn't far from the minds of coaches and administrators at schools around the nation.

 Georgia Tech athletics director Dave Braine said his department monitors official visits as closely as it can, but he knows a night on the town with the boys isn't going to show up on the official record even if it is happening. Like Garner, he admits to holding his breath and hoping for the best at times.

 "For anyone to say it couldn't happen at their place, they're wrong," Braine said. "It could happen anywhere."

Georgia running back Michael Cooper, who was a highly-sought prospect two seasons ago, said he wasn't enticed with anything inappropriate during his recruiting trips, but he knows not everyone had a similar lily white experience.

 "We went to a house party but nothing like totally out of the ordinary," he said. "You hear stories from guys who came here and talked about their visits to other schools."

 College athletics teams use official visits to sell their program to high school athletes. The schools are allowed to pay for a player's transportation, lodging and meals. Usually players arrive on Friday afternoon or Saturday morning and stay until Sunday.

 The days are filled with discussions with the head coach and assistant coaches, meetings with academic counselors, tours of the campus and athletics facilities, and lots and lots of food. What the nights are filled with is largely up to current athletes, 18- to 22-year-olds who serve as official hosts.

 That leaves schools "at the mercy of players," admitted David Wilson, the Yellow Jackets' recruiting coordinator.

 At Georgia and Georgia Tech, like most places around the country, recruits get free time with their hosts following dinner on Friday and Saturday night. Officials at both schools say they do their best to make sure their official hosts know right from wrong.

 "You try to educate your kids on the does and dont's," Garner said. "A lot of it is you depend on them to make good, sound judgments."

 Said Wilson: "We educate the kids about what areas of town we're not excited about them going to."

 At Georgia, strip joints are off limits for recruits and current players any time of the year, Garner said. In fact, he wonders how any hosts are affording much entertainment on the $30 per diem they're given to host a recruit. (If a player hosts two recruits, he gets $45 per day.)

 "It ain't a whole lot of money," Garner said. "Some of these big 'ole jokers, you take them to Waffle House or Cracker Barrel, he's going to eat $25 right there. With the resources the kids have, I find it hard to imagine our kids doing that."

 There is no enforced curfew on official visits, but schools try to do what they can to encourage players to be back in their beds at a reasonable hour. One of Georgia's strategies is to wear a prospect out before they're set loose. The Bulldogs usually don't let their prospects have free time until 11 p.m. each night, Garner said.

 "You take up so much of their time," he said. "We've got them running."  At Tech, each player meets early Sunday morning with head coach Chan Gailey, which Wilson hopes encourages a good night's sleep.

 "If a kid is really interested in coming here, they have to be fresh," he said.

The Bulldogs have traditionally been more worried about players and prospects fighting downtown rather than ending up where they shouldn't, but that will change now thanks to the events at Colorado, Garner said.

 "We felt like we were doing a good job of educating our players," he said. "We've talked about it, and we're going to be even more thorough now. We're going to do much more."

 The NCAA is trying to make sure of that. Last week, the organization formed a 16-person committee that will be chaired by NCAA vice president David Berst and will focus on the campus visit experience. The committee is expected to release its findings by April 20, and everyone expects to be operating under a new set of rules by the next National Signing Day.

 "I think the whole climate of recruiting is going to change," Garner said.

 But Wilson wonders how a committee can change the behavior of 18- to 21-year-old college males on their own at all hours of the night.

 "Most of the time, we're talking about adults, 18 years of age," he said. "He has to make good decisions. Certainly they could legislate a lot of things, but I don't know how you can legislate somebody making good decisions."

 It may be that schools have to stick with the status quo: seeking out responsible hosts, repeating their "be careful, be smart" mantra and hoping like heck to get through the weekend with no problems.

 "You're excited for the weekend coming up," Garner said, "but you're probably more excited when it's over and there weren't any incidents that came up."

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