Price of Victory

Kyle Schwaba is a Freshman at Marquette who will soon start writing for DoddsOnSports/ This is an essay that Kyle had written for one of his classes at MU, and he agreed to allow us to share it with you. Once you read it, hopefully you will realize why we are excited to have Kyle join the DOS staff!

Price of Victory: the Affects of Recruiting On High School Athletes

"Something leaves this man ill at ease. There's trouble in his most substantial holdings, deep trouble. He knows it, and knows too, that he's partly responsible for it. ‘It's a cesspool,' he says. ‘And we start the process'" (Wolff and Keteyian 2). These are the words of a Las Vegas recruiting "guru" who helps operate a showcase basketball tournament for elite high school players over the summer. The cesspool that he refers to is the recruiting process, or the process by which universities attempt to persuade star high school athletes to attend their respective schools and compete on the next level. The recruiting process has long been viewed as being a dirty, under-the-table game that is manipulated by shady third-parties that are looking no further than to profit off of the physical talents of adolescents and the American culture that puts a tremendous amount of time and money into collegiate sports.

The NCAA has rules and regulations for recruiting because of these factors, mainly to prevent unfair advantages in obtaining talent for teams and to maintain a level of traditional integrity (for instance, receiving money for playing on a school's basketball team would be considered professional, not amateur). Despite a long and elaborate list of recruiting guidelines, several schools have broken and continue to break the guidelines in order to obtain the best talent possible and win games (which, in turn, results in more money flowing to the universities as well as to the head coaches). Since the forming of the NCAA, athletic programs and even entire universities have been stigmatized as a result of recruiting scandals.

The truth of the matter is that high school athletes, anywhere between the ages of 14 to 18, often fall victim to temptations presented by college recruiters, and the mere presence of "promises" (as such temptations are often referred to) themselves often have resounding affects upon the youths. Talented adolescent-age kids in this modern era are forced to deal with issues concerning money, taking care of their families, constantly being forced to judge character, and cementing their own morals (or perhaps for how much they can be bought). There are many wrongs associated with the recruiting process; however, the most prevalent and important wrong is that the process strips youths of their defining characteristic, innocence.

One of the biggest responsibilities as an adult in today's society is handling money and finances, which tends not to be a responsibility imposed on teenagers (and rightfully so). However, when money is one of the most prevalent "under-the-table" recruiting tools used by colleges to influence athletes, it puts the athlete in a difficult and unfair situation. Boosters or representatives of universities have made habits of using cash, cars, shoes, clothing, and even sex in attempt to gain the affection of high school athletes (Martinez). On one hand, they can look to do what's best for their family (or themselves) financially; and on the other hand, they can choose not to be bought and wait until a possible chance to play professionally. When a great amount of talented athletes come from inner-city backgrounds or may not reside in particularly fortunate neighborhoods, it results in the fact that many youths have chosen and will continue to choose the illegal path.

The recruiting process of Chris Mills, a nationally-ranked high school basketball star in 1988, is a prime example. As talented as Mills was, it was only natural that there would be an intense recruiting war between several of the top college teams in the country to land Mills' services. Mills lived in a small apartment in Los Angeles with his adopted father, Claud Mills, who struggled to find steady income. This was a factor that would be exploited by the University of Kentucky. It was discovered that within a package from the University of Kentucky shipped to the Mills residence there contained two Kentucky basketball videotapes which had been requested, a common means for a recruit to determine the style of play of a particular team. It was also discovered, however, that the package contained $1000 in cash when examined at the shipping company. While Kentucky coaches played the role of benefactor, Mills reportedly saw more opportunities to provide income for his family, and would sign with Kentucky after his senior year of high school (Wolff and Keteyian 5). Because of a forged loyalty through an improper exchange of money, Mills would be corrupted in making one of the most important decisions in his life.

One of the most common traits that can be found amongst the star athletes in high schools all over the country is an egocentricity that most-likely outmatches that of any other student. This is a result of the attention that is placed upon star athletes through the media (newspapers, television, and the internet), school administration (watered down academic standards), and an upper-echelon social standing amongst the rest of the student population. Travis Diener, star basketball player at Marquette University and a former highly-recruited prospect, concurred "the attention that you receive is ridiculous at times. They read the paper and see your face. Or if Tom Crean (head basketball coach at Marquette) stops by the school to see a game, people know why he's here. Many people are all of the sudden interested in what you're doing or how well you're doing. People definitely start treating you differently." When athletes are given special treatment in most facets of their academic and social lives, it is easy to see why they develop a "celebrity" persona. The way youths look at themselves is often directly affected by how they are treated by the people around them. So if you treat a young man like a god, what is to stop him from actually believing that he is above everybody else?

Special attention is also placed upon star athletes from a different angle. In the world of high school basketball, star players often play for AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) teams over the summer, in order to play at tournaments where most of the college scouting occurs. It is mainly through these environments where players are inclined to establish loyalties amongst their coaches, fellow players, and those who present themselves with an offer to help in some way. For instance, the Illinois Warriors are an AAU team that is sponsored by Nike. The sponsorship results mainly in free Nike shoes for the players (which is legal due to the charge that is paid to play for an AAU team), but also results in a heavy hand of influence for the head coach of the Warriors. Sponsorship deals are used mainly as incentives for AAU coaches to direct their players towards universities that share the same sponsorship. The result is a vast majority of players that come out of the Illinois Warriors program going to schools like Kansas, Illinois, and Marquette, all Nike-sponsored schools.

This influence comes from several different sources, not just the coaches. A star player will find business card-bearing "supporters" looking to help out in any way they can (Wolff and Keteyian 14). These people often have hidden agendas in again trying to influence the athlete in some way. A star player will also find many acquaintances, or "distant relatives" as they are mockingly referred to, looking to latch on to the company of the athlete to somehow experience the success. Todd Townsend, a forward on the Marquette University basketball team, stated "People know about your success and they want to be a part of it. There was some of it that was harmless, just fans or parents trying to be supportive. But there were other times when you had to question the intentions of people." Star athletes are viewed as a commodity in this society; as a result, star athletes are often forced to determine their real friends from the fake. When teenagers are presented with the problem of deciphering through the vast assortment of shady characters that they encounter, there is a loss of appreciation of relationships and a burden of determining the worthy level of trust for everyone they meet, a burden that is unjust for a youth to shoulder.

The recruiting process makes star high school athletes unlike any other teenagers in the country. These youths are forced to deal with issues that are usually reserved for adults, such as providing (and refusing) financial stability, cementing their own moral beliefs, and essentially determining the amount of good in people's hearts. Despite the different and gratuitous preferential treatment that star players receive, they are expected to act and think the same way as other high school age youths, which is simply not a reasonable demand. This situation is not the fault of the players, AAU teams, or even college coaches. Rather, this situation is a result of society. We live in a society that loves money and loves sports. Money is the essence of college sports that allows it to exist while deteriorating it at the same time. Realizing that recruiting is a business that impressionable young men, dealing with the issues imposed, are becoming a part of as early as 14 years of age yields a frightening thought. It is the ability to corrupt youths that allows society to continue its idolization of sports stars; as well as its idolization of the almighty dollar.

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