Recruiting reform on NCAA agenda

Task force leader tells Congress new rules likely on visits, entertainment


March 12, 2004|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

For the second time in as many days, high-profile sports representatives appeared before Congress, but the tone was different yesterday.

In contrast to the apparent defiance Wednesday, when Major League Baseball Players Association leader Donald Fehr balked at promising cooperation in efforts to alter that sport's drug policy, there was a contrite quality in the remarks of NCAA vice president David Berst.

He plainly stated the need for new recruiting standards in wake of alleged incidents at the University of Colorado during recruiting visits.

Berst, who oversees Division I and leads the NCAA's newly formed task force on recruiting, offered a ban on official (or expense-paid) visits as a possible reform to take effect before the end of the summer.

"The role of the NCAA to date in this process has been largely to address logistical issues," Berst said, referring to the length of visits and how much money can be spent on a recruit for entertainment, meals and lodging.

He said NCAA officials "presuppose that institutions will employ a level of common sense and common decency to guide behavior. It appears that there is agreement that this is no longer sufficient."

Berst appeared in front of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection along with Elizabeth Hoffman of the University of Colorado, which has been sued by three women who allegedly were raped by football players and recruits in 2001.

According to the women, Colorado's football program used the assurance of sex to lure recruits, and other reports say strippers were used for entertainment on recruiting visits. After those allegations came to light, the school enacted rules requiring recruits to be supervised by adults at all times and prohibiting attendance at private parties.

"We will not tolerate harassment or exploitation in our athletic program or anywhere in our university," Hoffman said. "We are determined to restore the confidence in the University of Colorado's ability to create an exemplary athletic and campus culture."

In addition to Colorado controversy, University of Miami recruit Willie Williams had been charged with setting off three fire extinguishers in his high school and grabbing a woman against her will during his visit to the University of Florida. He also had 10 prior arrests.

NCAA executive director Myles Brand formed the recruiting task force - which included Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow (who could not be reached to comment for this article) - in an effort to clean up the process of enlisting athletes. "Some of what has been alleged is morally reprehensible and has no place in college sports," he said at the time.

According to Berst, the reforms would be designed to bring the recruitment of athletes in line with that experienced by "other exceptional prospective students." The changes would include shortening recruiting visits from 48 to 24 hours, limiting air transportation to coach-class rides, eliminating off-campus entertainment and cutting out game-day simulations during visits.

One member of the task force, Reggie Minton of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, said that though he believes the rules could use some tweaking, most of his organization's members "don't want us to blow up the system."

He said colleges in remote locations could be hurt by a ban on official visits, because travel expenses would be too high for recruits. Minton also offered Coppin State as an example of a program that might be injured by a ban on off-campus entertainment.

"Say you are Coppin State and you don't get to use Baltimore as a selling point," Minton said. "I don't think that's fair."

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