Athletic Management, 16.4, June/July 2004, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1604/wucurbabuses.htm
College recruiting, at least in NCAA Division I, is about to see some changes. This past winter’s highly publicized scandals involving official recruiting visits at a handful of prominent athletic programs all but guaranteed that. The NCAA is currently in the process of rewriting some rules on recruiting, which may be implemented as soon as August.
What’s been widely overlooked, however, is the role of high school athletic departments in curbing some of the problems. Whether their athletes are recruited regularly or once very 10 years, coaches and athletic directors can play a big role in preventing campus visits from getting out of hand and damaging a young person’s future.
"I think it’s the job of a high school coach to clearly point out to his or her athletes what may happen on a visit, what to expect, and what colleges should and should not be doing during a visit," says Jim Prunty, Athletic Director and former basketball and baseball coach at St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago.
"When a coach has identified possible Division I opportunities for an athlete, he or she has to sit down, have a frank talk, and lay out a game plan for how the process might evolve," Prunty says. "The coach has to be able to guide that youngster through the process and point out the potential pitfalls—not just to talk about what’s happened [in the scandals this year], but to get ready for the onslaught of attention and how to handle that."
Timothy Janocko, Head Football Coach at Clearfield (Pa.) High School and President of the Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaches Association, says what happens on recruiting visits ultimately comes down to choices made by the individual student-athlete. But he asks his players to consider that what’s offered on visits might reflect what the offering school and its coaches value.
"I always caution kids that if someone promises you something that’s unethical or just plain wrong," Janocko says, "then they’re not going to treat you right when you’re on the field, or later on if things don’t go well."
Jack Rose, Head Football Coach at Glen Oak (Ohio) High School, says his program’s recruiting preparation starts before a player’s freshman season by outlining what’s necessary for NCAA eligibility and continues through all parts of the recruiting process. "We say, ‘Here’s what you need to do if you want to play college football,’ and of course they all say they want to," Rose says.
"We give them a little booklet about things they should ask recruiters when they call, what they need to look at when they go on an official visit, and who they need to talk to," he continues. "Obviously, when they get on campus and away from home for the first time, they will have opportunities to do some things they wouldn’t normally do. But we try to warn them about their behavior—we say, ‘Make an impression on the coach the right way.’"
Tom Van Buskirk, Co-Director of Denver-based Positive Coaching Inc., which trains non-teacher coaches to lead high school teams in Colorado, stresses the importance of educating the parents of athletes about the process and insisting that parents accompany their child in meetings with college coaches and on campus visits.
"If a coach has an athlete with college potential, he or she needs to tell the parents, ‘Go with them to recruiting meetings, check on the school and the coach,’" Van Buskirk says.
"‘Think about the first day of school. You went with your child and then handed him or her off to someone else. You’re doing the same now.’"
A key point for coaches to get across is that parents must ask questions about the atmosphere of a campus and athletic program, Van Buskirk says. College coaches will often have dinner with the athlete and the parents to get a feel for what will close the deal for the student-athlete, whether it be playing-time potential, academics, or a party atmosphere, then tailor the official visit to that interest. Parents can head off many problems by turning the tables and asking lots of questions themselves.
At Wilson (Pa.) High School, where quarterback Chad Henne was heavily recruited before signing with the University of Michigan, Head Coach Jim Cantafio helped Henne’s parents develop a detailed plan for the recruiting process and for determining what their son wanted to accomplish in college. Cantafio has found that this process helps athletes remain focused during campus visits and later on.
Cantafio also recommends that athletes don’t rely on official visits alone to evaluate a school. Henne, for example, made several unofficial visits to campuses with his parents during the summer before his senior year of high school.
"When you make unofficial visits, the school can’t roll out the red carpet," Cantafio says. "When you go on an official recruiting weekend, they treat you like a king. An unofficial visit is a more relaxed visit."
Cantafio also told college coaches that they would have to go through him to communicate with his star quarterback, and that Henne would be available only at certain times, even during the active recruiting period allowed under NCAA rules.
More information about the NCAA’s recruiting task force is at www.ncaa.org/releases/divi/2004/2004042101d1.htm.
Testimony before Congress by David Berst, the NCAA’s Vice President of Division I, on recruiting abuses is at http://energycommerce.house.gov/108/Hearings/03112004hearing1226/Berst1886.htm