Panel ponders rewiring recruiting in electronic age

January 23, 2007|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN REPORTER

WASHINGTON -- Until a few years ago, DeMatha Catholic High football coach Bill McGregor believed he had college recruiters under control.

He wouldn't give a player's cell or home phone number to college coaches. If recruiters wanted to make contact, they had to come to his office.

But today, those same coaches, along with boosters and reporters from recruiting Web sites, have any number of ways to reach players. It might be through a text message; it might be on a teenager's MySpace page; it might be on a chat board associated with a college.

"The whole recruiting process has gotten entirely out of hand," said McGregor, who has built on the tradition of one of the state's most successful high school football programs in his 25 years. "I find it almost ludicrous."

He appeared yesterday on a panel of coaches, players and scholars discussing college recruiting at a Knight Commission meeting. The panel criticized not only electronic recruiting via text messages, but also the proliferation of Internet-based recruiting services.

The NCAA is considering limits on text messaging but tabled the issue at its most recent meeting earlier this month and won't take it up again until April. The Division I Management Council considered a proposal to limit messaging to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends and 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays, but it was defeated.

Based on yesterday's panel, the Knight Commission, created in 1989 to promote reform in college athletics, could recommend recruiting changes. But even though its executive board includes influential college administrators, the commission is not affiliated with the NCAA and has no power to implement policy.

Panel member Harry Edwards, a sociology professor and longtime activist on sports issues, said the NCAA should establish a committee to study the impact of technology on recruiting and the self-images of its athletes. The greater attention has inflated the egos of young athletes and set them up for greater falls if they fail, he said.

Edwards said intensified recruiting is part of a greater trend toward turning young athletes into commodities. Technological advances have compounded that process, he said.

"But there's no way to put that genie back in the bottle," he added. "Our best option is to understand the dynamic."

He's worried the current state of affairs could lead to tragedy. A highly rated player with a gang background could reach campus and, after failing to make the first string, shoot up the locker room, Edwards hypothesized.

"Then, we'll look back and wonder how the monster was created," he said. "But the reality is that we've already avoided tragedy more by luck than by a programmatic understanding of what's going on."

Recently fired North Carolina football coach John Bunting said he'd like to see more regulation of electronic recruiting, but neither he nor any of his panel mates proposed a ban on such contact.

College coaches are allowed limited visits and phone calls to recruits, but they can bombard high school stars with as many text messages as they want to send.

An NCAA student advisory committee favors a ban on text messaging, saying the prohibition would allow coveted athletes to lead more normal lives.

The text messaging bothers McGregor, the DeMatha coach. "They come at the most inappropriate times," he said. "You might have a boy sitting in class, and all of a sudden, he's being distracted by a text message. ... It's something that should maybe be taken a look at."

One of McGregor's juniors, Kenny Tate, is rated among the top 10 players in his class by such sites. "So what happens next year when he drops a pass or doesn't score a 40-yard touchdown every game?" the coach said. "There's so much pressure that's being unduly transferred to these boys, and they don't need it."

If it's not electronic recruiting distracting players, it's reporters from Internet-based recruiting services.

Maryland offensive lineman Andrew Crummey, who spoke yesterday on the panel, remembered calls he took after every campus visit, asking whether he liked the school and how it compared with others.

He said he yearned for periods when "you could just focus on what you were doing instead of answering all those calls."

Crummey also described how a player's Web-site ratings become his identity among fellow recruits. "You get respect from your peers based on that number, not on your playing ability," he said, adding weight to Edwards' commodification theory.

But Bobby Burton, who runs the popular recruiting site Rivals.com, said his business has cleaned up recruiting by shedding more light on the process and has spread the word about players who might have had little shot at scholarships in the old days.

"Sunlight is the best antiseptic," he said in touting his site's recruiting coverage.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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