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Scandals spur major recruiting changes

The NCAA made a number of changes to its football recruiting guidelines that are intended to end the "celebrity atmosphere" that surrounds visits. Coaches say the ban on the use of private planes may be the most disruptive policy alteration, especially for ACC schools like Virginia Tech and Clemson located in relatively remote areas.

Last year, it seemed like college coaches would do just about anything to get a football recruit.

They used scoreboard displays and doctored newspaper headlines and paid for personalized jerseys, steak-and-shrimp dinners, ritzy hotel stays and private jet rides.

With those powerful tools, however, came great problems. Last February the NCAA was humiliated after allegations, which included several rape charges, surfaced stating that the University of Colorado was using sex and alcohol to entice prospects at recruiting parties. That month, the NCAA suffered another setback when felony and misdemeanor charges were levied against Miami freshman Willie Williams, considered one of the nation’s top linebacker prospects, during a recruiting visit to the University of Florida.

In the wake of these allegations, the NCAA Division I Board of Directors approved a wide-reaching recruiting reform package Aug. 5 that outlawed, among other things, the use of private airplanes, outlandish hotel accommodations, gourmet meals and personalized recruiting aides, such as the aforementioned jerseys and game-day simulations.

“This package is intended to put an end to the celebrity atmosphere that has developed around the recruiting visit,” said Robert Hemenway, University of Kansas chancellor and chair of the Board of Directors. “Recruiting visits must be designed so that student-athletes can evaluate the entire campus environment to find the best academic and athletic program for them.”

NCAA president Myles Brand championed the proposal, justifying the immediacy with which the regulations were passed.

“There are times when the Association needs to respond swiftly to circumstances that threaten the education of student-athletes and the integrity of college sports,” Brand said. “This action shows that our membership is seriously concerned about preserving the well being of student-athletes and eliminating the sense of entitlement that unfortunately has developed in the recruiting process.”

Unfortunately for football coaches, however, the NCAA has perhaps became too concerned. The changes passed in the regulation will likely necessitate great adjustments, especially in the world of football recruiting, where now-outlawed practices have become ingrained in recruiting culture.

“If they can’t take private flights, that’s going to hurt some people,” Miami coach Larry Coker said in late July, while the new regulations were still proposals. “If we can’t take players off campus or parents off campus, that’s going to hurt some people. That’s going to hurt us, I think.”

The transportation issue appeared to be one of the biggest points of contention for coaches, some of whom rely on private flights to get prospects on campus as soon as possible.

“When they get there, I don’t think they need to ride around in a limo, I think that what’s normal at that university is right,” Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. “But I think getting there is a little different, because there is so much difference in where people are located.

“What you’re trying to do is make it equal for everyone,” Beamer continued. “In that particular part, they made it unequal for everyone. Where it may be an hour trip to get to Atlanta, it becomes a five-hour, an eight-hour trip to get to Blacksburg, whereas with private transportation, it’d be an hour to get to Atlanta, an hour to get to Blacksburg.”

Some coaches, however, such as Georgia Tech’s Chan Gailey, saw the reasoning behind a transportation restriction.

“If [a prospect] flies in on a private plane it’s going to be a lot different than if he makes that trip for four years back and forth,” Gailey said. “There’s some validity to the rule; it’s not like it’s totally asinine.”

Yet Gailey also suggested that there are better solutions to the recruiting problem than the new regulations.

“The NCAA wants you to be responsible for the kid 24/7, but they won’t let you be around him. They legislate how much time you can spend with a kid during the spring and the summer, and how much structure you can have,” Gailey said. “Let us have the time with them. Let us spend time with them in structure, in football, in what they like, so that we have a little bit of a holdover. But that won’t ever hold water. They’d never do that.”

Additionally, some coaches feel that not even the new proposals can effectively accomplish the NCAA goal of eliminating the “celebrity atmosphere” and scandals accompanying recruiting visits.

“They’re all celebrities,” Coker maintained. “I recruited at Ohio State, at Oklahoma, at Oklahoma State, and that’s the nature of the game. That’s what they are.”

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