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Recruiting Rules Get a Close Look

NCAA task force members say changes will be less drastic than those adopted this week by Colorado in response to scandal.

March 06, 2004|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

The University of Colorado's decision this week to overhaul its football recruiting policies will not necessarily lead to similarly drastic changes for all colleges, members of a recently formed NCAA task force said Friday.

"I don't see this as a template for anything, except for what Colorado thinks is best for it at this time," said Grant Teaff, executive director of the American Football Coaches Assn. and a task force committee member.

Stan Wilcox, associate commissioner of the Big East Conference, agreed.

"I think what they did was specific to their specific situation," Wilcox said of Colorado's decision.

On Thursday, Colorado, mired in a recruiting scandal that has led to football Coach Gary Barnett's being put on administrative leave, announced sweeping changes in the way football players would be recruited in Boulder.

School President Betsy Hoffman said she hoped the edict would "set the standard" for other colleges.

Friday morning, the 16-member NCAA task force convened for its first teleconference call as it embarks on a fast-track mission to reform recruiting practices, some of which NCAA President Myles Brand recently described as "morally reprehensible."

Was the timing coincidental?

Yes.

Colorado, scalded by scandal, made an independent and pro-active decision. Three women have filed federal lawsuits against the school, saying they were raped at, or just after, a 2001 off-campus party attended by players and recruits. In all, seven women have accused Colorado football players or recruits of rape since 1997.

Chris Plonsky, a task-force member who is director of women's athletics at University of Texas, compared what Colorado did to Vanderbilt's unilateral decision last fall to restructure its athletic department.

"That's why presidents run universities," Plonsky said.

"The issue of presidential control is never more evident than when things like that happen."

Even so, changes in NCAA recruiting practices probably will be enacted by next year.

Reform movements tend to move at glacial speed in the NCAA, but the recent spate of recruiting-related scandals at Colorado and elsewhere has prompted a surprisingly quick response.

Brand has asked the NCAA task force members to present possible recommendations for new standards to the Division I Management Council by April 19.

"We are not going to go through another recruiting calendar in football without new standards in place," Brand said.

Yet, task force members interviewed Friday made it clear that Colorado had acted on its own, independent from the NCAA.

Besides the rape accusations, the school has been accused of using sex and alcohol to lure recruits to the football program.

In response, the university announced it would, in part:

* Reduce a recruit's official visit time from two days to one.

* Drastically limit official campus visits by recruits during the season.

* Curtail recruits' access to "player hosts."

Saying that he was speaking as the head of the American Football Coaches Assn., and not as a task force member, Teaff said that he thought some of Colorado's changes were punitive and not applicable on a national scale.

A former head football coach at Baylor, Teaff said the changes could put Colorado at a competitive disadvantage.

Teaff, for example, said it was vital for recruits to build relationships with players during campus visits.

"I never signed a player in 37 years of coaching that my on-campus players didn't say, 'Yeah, Coach, this is our kind of guy,' " Teaff said. "And I turned a lot of them down when they said, 'Hey, Coach, we don't want this guy around here.' "

Plonsky said she understood why Colorado had acted before the NCAA could weigh in on the issue.

"This institution has been in the limelight for several weeks now and felt compelled to step out and make a pro-active statement," she said.

"This task force will go to work in the same time frame, so, obviously, the two will run parallel at some point.

"But I don't think Colorado intended this news to be a template. I think it was intended to be a template for Colorado."

However, Plonsky added, many of the issues facing Colorado would be addressed by the task force.

"Our committee's charge is pretty clear," she said. "Those decisions by Colorado will be read, will be evaluated and will be talked about, but I don't think at any point that Colorado expects that to be the universal approach."

One change the task force is considering is reducing official visits a recruit can make from five to three.

Wilcox said the task force had a wide range of options to consider.

"All that is fair game for us," he said.

Teaff said many of the issues could be resolved if present rules were honed or clarified.

Some NCAA recruiting bylaws are left open to loose interpretation, such as the one that says colleges may "provide entertainment at a scale comparable to that of a normal student life and not excessive in nature."

However, what does that really mean?

For instance, Willie Williams, a heavily recruited football prospect in Florida, was transported by private jet and feasted on lobster dinners during his recruitment by Florida, Florida State and Miami.

Wilcox said the committee could propose new legislation or tighten existing bylaws.

He added that the recruiting issue was a high-priority matter and predicted that, unlike some other NCAA legislation, this topic would not get tied up in red tape.

Change is coming in the way college athletes are recruited, he said, but perhaps not as much change as Colorado football recruits will know.

"If we find things that are just blatantly wrong and can be changed for the betterment of everybody, I think we can get that done in the time frame we are looking at," Wilcox said.

"We have ways we can get emergency legislation through, and that's probably the track we're looking to go on."

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