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Risky behavior not policed in ASU football recruiting

 by Joe Watson
 published on Tuesday, February 25, 2003


The following story appeared in the Dec. 9, 2002 issue of The State Press and the Web Devil. It was recently named first place for newspaper in-depth reporting by the Society of Professional Journalists and third place for the regional Hearst awards.

As high school football prospects visit college campuses across the country for one of the busiest recruiting weekends of the fall semester, they can expect to be welcomed by attractive college co-eds whose goal is to help lure them to their respective universities.

And lure them they do - with parties, underage drinking and sometimes sex, according to a pair of senior ASU student recruiters.

College recruiting groups such as ASU's Sun Devil Recruiters are being condemned by critics and college football administrators who say the groups are sexist, potentially dangerous and almost certain to bring embarrassment to the universities that sponsor them.

"It's a disaster waiting to happen," said Becky Stoltz, a fourth-year Sun Devil Recruiter and ASU honors student, to The State Press as more than a dozen high school recruits made officially-sanctioned, two-day visits to the campus the weekend of Dec. 14.

"We don't know anything about NCAA guidelines because we aren't told what they are," Stoltz said. "We could be breaking so many rules and we wouldn't even know about it."

Stoltz, a marketing senior, and Robin Bradley, another Sun Devil Recruiter also in her fourth year with the program, painted a vivid picture of what it's like to recruit football players to ASU. They say while they don't condone or participate in what many of their peers are doing "unofficially" as recruiters, underage drinking and consensual sex between recruits and female recruiters are common.

Thirty-five of the 37 Sun Devil Recruiters are women, and more than half are members of sororities. They are, for the most part, good-looking, sociable and knowledgeable about the University.

The majority of Division I-A college football programs sponsor groups like the Sun Devil Recruiters, who act as hosts to high school players and escort them throughout the campus during their visits.

Proponents of college football "hostess" programs, including ASU athletic department officials, defend the groups, saying that they perform respectable duties during high school recruits' campus visits.

They also assert that the female student recruiters act as professional and reputable ambassadors of their respective universities to high school athletes and their parents and are a key element in bringing in top athletes to the program.

"It is a valuable part of recruiting student athletes because the incoming student athlete... they get to talk to some people who aren't just football players," said ASU head coach Dirk Koetter. "They can offer some insight into student life that I certainly can't and the players can't.

"All the things that we have in our football program, I can't be the hands-on guy in all of it," Koetter added. "I trust the [people] we have doing it just like I trust our strength coach to handle our stuff in the weight room. And the coaches that are running the Sun Devil Recruiters, I trust them and I know that they're doing the right things."

But Bradley said many Sun Devil Recruiters, who spend as many as 23 hours of a busy recruiting weekend at a high school prospect's side, are participating in underage drinking at recruiting parties and "a lot of the girls are hooking up with the recruits."


Click here for a slideshow of the people interviewed for this story.

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Bradley, a social work senior who graduates this month, added that at least 10 Sun Devil Recruiters, many underage, attended a football recruiting party Friday night with alcohol on hand.

"But that happens in college. Anytime you get males and females together with alcohol, [sex] is going to happen," she said.

In addition to the recruiting parties, Stoltz said many ASU football players, who also act as hosts to the recruits during official and unofficial NCAA-sanctioned visits, take the high school players -- all of them under 21 and many under the age of 18 -- to local bars and clubs.

"The coaches don't know where these guys are while they're here visiting. They could be going to Mexico for all they know," Stoltz said.

At the end of a day's worth of activities, which include the recruits meeting with ASU football coaches and touring the athletic facilities, some recruits ask Sun Devil Recruiters to accompany them to their hotel rooms, Stoltz said.

"When a recruit's got a queen-size bed in a room by himself... he's going to ask a girl to come up to his room, especially if they've both been drinking," Stoltz added.

Before a recruit makes his visit to ASU, coaches tell Sun Devil Recruiters which players are high-, mid- and low-priority prospects, Stoltz said. When ASU was recruiting former Tolleson High School and current UA running back Mike Bell two years ago, Stoltz made two trips to Tolleson to visit Bell during his high school games.

According to Stoltz, she paid for her own expenses to drive to Tolleson and none of the coaching staff asked her to go. If the coaching staff had set up the trip, it would have been in violation of NCAA guidelines, which specifically state that coaches are not permitted to direct student hosts and hostesses to make contact with prospects outside of their visits to campus.

The NCAA did not respond for comment on this story.

"That's pretty hard to believe that she just came all the way out on her own," Bell said. "I remember at the time I thought that ASU must really want me."

Although both Stoltz and Bell say they made little contact with each other during the visits, Stoltz said she knew the trips would be valuable to the coaching staff in its pursuit of Bell.

"[The visits] weren't really encouraged," Stoltz said. "But as a Sun Devil Recruiter, you know that if it's one of the top recruits... the coaches want you to do whatever you can to get them to come to ASU."

Obvious motives

In an informal survey of the 117 Division I-A college football programs nationwide, The State Press found that many schools have similar groups to the Sun Devil Recruiters, and all are predominantly or entirely made up of female students.

Some of the largest groups exist in the South, with Southeastern Conference (SEC) schools Louisiana State (55 females), Georgia (78 females), Auburn (80 females, 20 males) and Alabama (100 females) leading the way. The State Press traveled to LSU in Baton Rouge to get a perspective of how SEC schools manage their student recruiting programs.

Most schools in the West and Southwest have similar, although smaller programs. Perennial college football powerhouses Nebraska, Texas and Colorado and all Pac-10 schools sponsor groups like the Husker Hostesses, the CU Ambassadors and the Arizona Angels.

At ASU, football coaches and graduate assistants advertise every spring for volunteers to join the Sun Devil Recruiters by posting fliers in high-traffic areas, said Ted Monachino, ASU defensive line coach and Sun Devil Recruiters director. Jeff Copp and Eddy Zubey, the two graduate students who manage the program, also have recruited volunteers by going to every ASU sorority and other student organizations on campus, Monachino said.

According to athletics administrators across the country, it's not surprising that most volunteers are female.

"We just tend to have more of an interest on the part of females," said David Hansburg, Colorado's director of football operations and recruiting. "I think that a lot of people who do this are looking for public relations-type positions. It just so happens that most of those students are female."

Unlike ASU, Hansburg said CU does not actively look for male or female volunteers for its Ambassadors program, and that the students who participate typically hear about the program by word of mouth. Hansburg said for that reason, he doesn't see a need to try to incorporate males into the program.

Ingrid Patin, the student president of LSU's student recruiters, the Tiger Pride, said incorporating males into their program would likely be detrimental to the group's mission.

"I don't know how open [the recruits] would be to having a male host [outside of a player], mainly because that's not really done and they're not used to it," Patin said before LSU's Nov. 23 game against Mississippi. "They know when they come, they're gonna get a female host.

"But it is something we've looked into before, and we'll probably look into it in the future."

Some schools admit they don't want males in their recruiting volunteer programs at all. Such is the case at Alabama, where the Belles, once called Bear's Angels in the 1960s, was created as the first program of its kind under legendary head coach Bear Bryant.

"It's just the way it is," said Beth Hudson, a graduate assistant at Alabama who helps coordinate the Belles program. "Our program has always been all-female, and it will likely stay that way."

Mike Empey, the recruiting coordinator for Brigham Young University's football program, which does not have a student hostess group, said it's obvious why schools put together mostly-female groups.

"You're not going to pick just any random people," Empey said. "Why not have those people be beautiful girls? You're trying to get young men to come to your school."

Staci Sutton, Florida State's spirit coordinator and head of the Garnet and Gold Girls, said while the football office is not opposed to having males join, they likely wouldn't be as effective as an all-female group of student volunteers.

"I'm not going to lie to you. All of our girls are good-looking because looks have something to do with it," said Sutton, the Garnet and Gold Girls coordinator for two years. "It's a sad part of life and it's a sad part of collegiate athletics."

Christine Conley, a first-year member of the CU Ambassadors and a communications sophomore, said high school prospects may be attracted to a student recruiter, but her communication skills go further to helping land a top recruit.

"It's not going to help if you're just good looking, and you know nothing about football," Conley said. "Granted the players might go for the 'hot' girls, but not the parents."

A covert message?

There are several successful football programs that do not have a student hostess group, including Miami (Fla.), which will play for a second-straight national championship in this season's Fiesta Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium on Jan. 3, and Notre Dame, widely-regarded as the most storied college football program in history.

"We've decided not to have a bunch of women hosting football players. There's no need. In fact, there's no need to have one of these programs anywhere," said Mike Karowski, the assistant athletic director in charge of compliance at Notre Dame, adding that the Fighting Irish use only their football players to host visiting recruits. "We're not selling sex here, and when you present a group of attractive females to a high school football player, that's the impression you're giving them.

"I don't know what having a group like that does for you," Karowski added. "I don't know what [females] bring to the table. Maybe they offer a different perspective, I don't know."

The reasoning perplexes Kathy Redmond, as well.

A lifelong Cornhusker fan whose father played baseball at Nebraska, Redmond attended the school in the early 1990s.

In 1995, Redmond accused Nebraska football star Christian Peter, who later was drafted by the NFL's New England Patriots, of raping her twice in 1991; however, she did not press criminal charges.

Instead, she filed a Title IX sexual harassment lawsuit alleging that the university did not provide a safe educational environment.

The parties later settled out of court, and in 1997, Redmond formed the Littleton, Colo.-based National Coalition Against Violent Athletes.

"Wouldn't it make more sense for you not to have the women there [as escorts]? Why not use male professors?" Redmond asked. "The schools present these pretty, well-kept women to make the [recruits] feel special and great. They make them feel like these women are just going to be made available to them.

"You're planting in the recruit's mind something very dangerous."

At Louisiana State, and other schools that have hostess programs, officials say the goal of having female volunteers interact with athletes is to offer recruits a different perspective.

Sharon Lewis, the director of the LSU Tiger Pride, said while high school recruits are mostly interested in meeting with the coaching staff, she believes it's important for the players and their parents, who normally accompany their sons on visits, to get a student's perspective on campus life.

"We give the recruits all the information they should know about academics and the environment at LSU," Lewis said. "I tell the girls to share their experiences here. The parents really want to know what the campus life is like."

Redmond, however, doesn't buy it.

"The real problem is that these women are used as a guise by the athletic department that everything is on the up-and-up," Redmond said. "Sure, while the parents are around, everything is fine. But then after hours, they're going to party. And the football program knows it's happening.

"I have no problem with these girls showing them the town during the day and then going home," Redmond added. "But I'm not sure what the girls are expecting what is expected of them afterward."

A matter of trust

After a recruiting party incident in Boulder just over a year ago, Colorado now has policies in place that prohibit its Ambassadors from socializing with recruits outside of official recruiting functions, The State Press found by visiting the university last month. And CU became the first Division I-A program to institute a curfew (1 a.m.) for visiting recruits.

On Dec. 7, 2001, an off-campus party that was attended by several CU football players and as many as 15 high school recruits on official visits got out of hand. In the end, one of the female hostesses of the party alleged that she was gang-raped by players and recruits, according to the Denver Post -- the second recruiting party incident in five years that resulted in rape allegations. In both cases, police did not file rape charges because of a lack of evidence.

Although an internal inquiry revealed that no CU Ambassadors attended the party, as he had first been led to believe, CU assistant recruiting coordinator Nathan Maxcey said the athletic department implemented the new policies restricting contact between recruits and Ambassadors as a proactive measure.

"We put those policies in there just to have them in place to avoid anything with the Ambassadors in the future," Maxcey said.

At the beginning of this season, Maxcey said he sat down with the 17 Ambassadors -- all female -- and went over the new guidelines for more than an hour and explained what was expected from them regarding their conduct.

The Sun Devil Recruiters, however, according to Stoltz, have had no such training session and have never been issued a set of guidelines or asked to sign a contract. In fact, Mark Brand, ASU's assistant athletic director for public relations, said the program has never had rules in writing.

"This program is really no big deal. It's a small-time operation," Brand said.

When asked whether it would be a good idea to create a formal handbook for Sun Devil Recruiters to avoid any incidents like the ones that occurred at Colorado, ASU athletic director Gene Smith said:

"In my opinion, any successful organization has to be built on integrity and trust -- any successful organization, regardless of resources, regardless of anything else.

"When you begin to formalize a relationship based upon a contract -- that's why my wife and I don't have a prenup[tual] -- you are actually challenging whether or not you have trust in that relationship. I trust our student athletes. I trust the young ladies who have volunteered to be a part of this program.

"I am not an individual that believes in setting up structure, setting up contracts to make an organization successful," he added.

Hansburg, though, advised that every university across the country -- including ASU -- rethink its policies pertaining to visiting recruits.

"Every school should look into taking the steps that we've taken. I think the bottom line is that prospective student athletes need to understand that when they come to a college campus they are held to the same rules as the students," Hansburg said. "I would think that every program in this country should look closely at what they're doing. We've had a great response. So I recommend it. I think it can only help your program."

CU Police Chief Jim Fadenrecht said he believes the strict rules should expand beyond the universities' bounds and become instituted on a national level.

"I think parents of recruits have an expectation that when the university invites them there is some level of supervision," Fadenrecht said. "It's my understanding that the NCAA does not have specific rules about [recruiting parties]. I think that it may be beneficial to talk about some standards that could be applied uniformly."

Stoltz said some rules should be spelled out for the recruiters as a result of the actions of many of the females who signed up in the past two seasons.

When she first joined the program four years ago, the Sun Devil Recruiters was a small group of both males and females, and she joined because she wanted to go into sports marketing after graduation. In many ways, she felt the program was like an internship.

However, with the program's massive growth in the past two years, the experience, she said, has been soured by females who have joined the program for the wrong reasons.

"We've got too many girls who joined just to meet football players," she said. "That's not why I joined and I think a lot of the girls are making a bad name for all of us."

Staff writers Matt Garcia and Samantha Xanthos contributed to this story.

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