Recruiting 101: Boosters

There NCAA has very strict rules regarding who may contact prospective student-athletes. However, those definitions are often confusing. As such, schools have entire departments dedicated to helping define and enforce those rules. In this segment of Recruiting 101 we'll take a peek at some of the policies, and what can happen when those are violated.

What is a "Booster"? College athletic programs, including San Jose State, have entire departments that study and define what that term means in relationship to the rules set for by the NCAA. Violations of contact rules can result in various levels of punishment ranging from letters, to players being declared ineligible, to the dreaded "Death Penalty". Inside Sparta will take a look at some of the definitions of what makes someone a booster. At the end of this article there will be a link to the SJSU athletics official website for complete information.

What is a booster? We'll take this straight from the definition provided by the SJSU athletic department official website.

Under NCAA rules, a "representative of athletics interests" (more commonly referred to as a "booster") is any individual, agency or corporate entity who...

  • Has ever made any type of financial or in-kind contribution to the athletics department, to a specific sport program or to an athletics booster organization, including purchasing seating to athletics events (i.e., season ticket holder)
  • Are or have been a member of any organization or agency promoting an institutions athletics
  • Has ever helped to arrange or have provided employment for an enrolled student-athlete, a prospective student-athlete or their parents or relatives
  • Has ever assisted in any manner in the recruitment of prospective student-athletes
  • Has ever provided benefits to enrolled student-athletes or their families or to prospective student-athletes or their families
  • Has otherwise promoted the institution's athletics program in any manner
  • Participated as a varsity athlete at the institution
  • Are a parent or guardian of an enrolled student-athlete

Once an individual or entity becomes a "booster" or "representative of athletics interests," that identity is retained indefinitely, even if involvement with the athletics program ceases. Some examples of a representative of athletics interests (i.e., booster) are: fans, undergraduate students, graduate students, all university faculty, staff and other employees and alumni.

This is just a small sample of what constitutes a booster. For more information you can download a complete "booster guide" provided by the San Jose State athletic department.

These rules are put in place with the idea that a student-athlete shouldn't receive additional benefits not accorded to the general student population. Of course it should be noted that athletes at almost all Football Bowl Subdivsion (formerly D-1AA) institutions are allowed some flexibility on academic entrance requirements not available to regular students. For the purposes of this article we won't get into the reasons for this accommodation, but it should be mentioned.

So, what are some of the real-life instances that constitute being a booster? As mentioned above simply being a fan places one in that category. Such things as buying a prospective student-athlete a meal, talking to a recruit about an institution (see contact rules in Recruiting 101: Contact Timelines) to buying his parents a house or providing other financial assistance, are all violations of NCAA rules and can result in an institution being penalized for such acts, even if they aren't aware of them. One of the NCAA's most infamous criteria for penalizing a school is that the institution knew, or should have known the actions were taking place.

What can happen to an institution in violation is entirely up to the NCAA, and can range from a letter notifying the school to stop, to being placed on probation along with the loss of scholarship, all the way to what's referred to as the death penalty where a program is basically dismantled for a certain period of time. The affects of such a ruling can be devastating to a program. The only instance of the death penalty being levied against a college football program was when SMU was penalized in 1986 for repeated violations both by boosters and the school itself. The effects of that sanction are still being felt by the program today.

A violation can result in (depending on the severity) a program being stripped of scholarships for a certain number of years, not allowed to participate in post-season bowl games, limited in the number of recruiting trips that can be taken by coaches, and other penalties. A program is also placed on some sort of probation. If another violation is found within the time of that probation, more significant penalties can be levied.

The best rule-of-thumb to incorporate is the allow the people that are paid to recruit prospective student-athletes - the coaches and athletic departments - do their jobs.

Again, this is by no means a comprehensive overview of what constitutes being a booster, nor of the penalties that can be placed upon an institution for any violations. For complete information you can contact the NCAA, or the San Jose State Athletic Department.

In our next segment we'll look at how technology, including the internet, has affected recruiting.

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