A thing of the past

Years ago, Husky Athletic Director Barbara Hedges officially disbanded the Husky Hunter Organization. This happened in the wake of the NCAA sanctions of 1993 and was done in reaction to what was perceived as an out-of-control "booster organization."

To me, to disband this group of true supporters was shortsighted and certainly just a showcase example of how the university's administration was attempting to show how it was going to control football boosters. It never really served its purpose though, because it didn't eliminate cheating.

Why? Because nobody was cheating in the first place.

The program was, in fact, the greatest example of "institutional control" of any organization under an athletic department's purview. Institutional control was, after all, the only real violation ever proven against the Husky Football program and resulted in the sanctions that were to cripple the team for over a decade.

However, rather than embracing the program and showing that it was a positive force in recruiting, it was condemned by elimination. It was really a shame and a slap in the face to all the members who were honest and performed functions that were entirely legal and within the rules.

The Husky Hunters were a group of scouts, boosters, job providers, and friends of the program who volunteered many hours of valuable service to the football program as well as the entire athletic department. Numbering as many as 400 strong, they were men and women dedicated to assisting the recruitment of prospects primarily to the football team.

Their duties were simply to send the recruiting coordinator tips, leads, connections, and newspaper articles of prospective student athletes primarily on the west coast. Any person who could help the team in any way was put into the organization. There were no dues, no initiation, no money was involved, and absolutely no suggestion that any inducement should ever be given to an athlete to attend Washington.

The organization was founded during an era when alumni involvement was OK by NCAA rules and boosters were actually allowed to meet in person with any prospect. They could make phone calls to recruits, visit them anywhere including on their official visit and even have a kid and his family over for a visit.

When the rules changed in the late 80's, boosters were no longer allowed to partake in any recruiting activity which involved in-person contacts, phone calls, or visits with either the recruit or his parents. However, previous relationships or relatives could continue to have in-person contact, so it became critical to put anyone who was ever involved in recruiting under the umbrella of the Hunter program to ensure that the rules were being followed.

Those involved were sent specific NCAA rules on a regular basis. Copies of these rules were given to the investigators that looked at Washington, but they were entirely ignored.

There was an annual meeting held every fall where all the rules were handed out and specific rule changes were reviewed. This was a legal organization that obeyed the rules, because they knew them better than any other school in our conference. No other program had such a well-organized and effective "information" system.

This was all prior to the Internet, of course, and the recruiting coordinator literally received every article or report on kids from the ninth grade up. It was a built-in system for football recruiting. Similar organizations exist today at other universities but the Husky Hunter program was systematically eliminated because it was feared to be part of a big evil system that was Husky Football.

This was the farthest thing from the truth.

If the investigators would have interviewed any member, they would have found that it was indeed a well run and legal program which emphasized the rules.

By disbanding it, the administration negated all of its positive contributions and made it appear like it was an illegal activity.

I'll admit that there were things that were found to be out of line involving some boosters, but those really had more to do with not backing Coach James, and not pointing these abuses out, so the group could be controlled and educated.

The demise of the Husky Hunters program was a major setback to Washington's recruiting. Leads were important. Connections to a recruit were important. Tapes on a recruit were important. Members scouting high school games wearing purple and gold were important. Jobs for kids after they signed were important. Friendships with high school coaches were important. Newspaper articles with all-league teams, track times, and individual write-ups were important. It required a tremendous amount of organizational activity and control, but it was well worth it.

The Husky Hunters worked and it was legal.

I would like to personally thank all the people who helped Washington football through the old Husky Hunter program. Their dedication to the program and the rules were unmatched by any recruiting organization in America at its time. They were sincere and they knew the rules better than many in the administration ever did.

They were eliminated for what was perceived to be happening rather than for what was actually taking place. And that is a shame.
Dawgman.com columnist and KJR 950 Sports Radio personality, Dick Baird.
Dick Baird was an Assistant Coach (Linebackers) and Recruiting Coordinator at the UW from 1985-1998. He has joined the Dawgman.com staff as a featured columnist for both the web site and Sports Washington magazine. In addition to his regular editorial columns, Coach Baird will try to provide some of his unique perspective by answering a few of your selected questions online. If you would like to send in your questions, please CLICK HERE.

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