High School Sports
Recruiting spending spree changes course
Seattle Times staff reporter
On the night of Jan. 5, 2002, during what was a typical recruiting weekend for the University of Washington football team, a party of 14 — including two recruits and their parents, two Huskies players who were their hosts and four UW coaches — dined at The Metropolitan Grill in downtown Seattle.
Little on the menu went unordered.
The party started with appetizers, including four prawn tails at $13.95 each.
Then came the main course, including two jumbo lobsters at $109.95 each, two large bone-in steaks at $47.95 each and three large filets at $39.95 each.
The night was capped off by dessert — 10 different items including one nine-layer cake at $10.95.
Throw in valet parking, beverages and a $300 tip, and the final bill came to $1,666.14 — or roughly $119 per diner — a hefty number, especially considering neither of the two recruits signed with Washington.
But the school did nothing wrong in the eyes of the NCAA.
In fact, it was essentially keeping up with the competition, knowing that the same recruits would be similarly wined and dined on their 48-hour visits to other schools.
Such dinners "just became a show to see who could put on the best feed," said Todd Turner, new UW athletic director.
The days of such lavish dinners for recruits, however, are over — at Washington and everywhere else in the country — thanks to changes in recruiting rules created in response to a scandal that rocked the University of Colorado last winter.
The Colorado scandal includes reports of recruiting visits that allegedly included parties filled with strippers and escorts. One woman filed a federal suit saying she was raped during a party for recruits in December 2001.
In the wake of the Colorado mess came reports in other areas that shined a light on the extravagant practices — expensive meals, chartered jet flights, luxurious hotel rooms — commonly employed by schools to entice football recruits.
Embarrassed NCAA officials convened a panel last summer to examine the issue and later adopted a set of proposed reforms, including eliminating the use of private or chartered airplanes and ordering that recruits be given "standard meals similar to those offered on campus."
"The intent was to reduce what they would call the 'celebrity entitlement' kind of atmosphere that has ended up hanging around some of these visits in the past," Turner said. "They wanted to make it more along the lines of what would be expected of the recruiting of any other highly recruited student at the university."
An eight-person Pac-10 task force later enacted new recruiting guidelines for its member schools similar to those proposed by the NCAA. Those rules took effect Dec. 1. The rules cover all sports but will mostly impact football and men's basketball, the two sports in which schools spend the most money on recruiting.
The new Pac-10 rules include setting a daily budget for meals based on the normal per diem for a university employee plus 20 percent.
At Washington, that total comes to $61 for meals per day, not including taxes and tips. At Washington State, that number is $37.20.
That means Washington recruits who once could anticipate a weekend tour of all the hot Seattle restaurants — The Met, Daniel's Broiler or the Space Needle — now can expect to eat more meals at Jack in the Box, or on campus.
Recruits have already noticed a difference.
Bellevue linebacker E.J. Savannah, who has visited Arizona, Arizona State, California and Oregon and has a trip to UW scheduled, said he did a lot of eating "with the team and at training table (the on-campus dining hall for athletes)."
Savannah said some older players told him that "you aren't getting it as good as we got it."
But Savannah also thinks the changes might be for the better.
"You'd love to be taken to a nice restaurant and enjoy a high-class meal," he said. "But there's another side to it that when you eat at training table: You get to interact more with the team and you get to spend more time with them and get to see what the guys are really like."
Turner said Washington will surely save money — maybe as much as $10,000 a year — though that wasn't a real impetus for the new rules. Changing the culture of recruiting, Turner said, was the main focus.
"Part of the problem we all have is bringing kids in here with a celebrity view of their relationship to the university," Turner said. "And that's just inappropriate. This helps get that under control."
During the 2003-04 academic year, the Huskies spent $137,000 on football recruiting visits. The UW athletic department receives no money from the university.
Pac-10 officials said the new rules have forced them to balance making sure they were complying with the edicts and not falling at a competitive disadvantage to other conferences.
"Every conference is struggling with this just as much as we are," said Mike Matthews, the Pac-10's assistant commissioner for compliance. "I don't think we are unique in how we are trying to implement this. The policy says 'standard meals and lodging.' So what does that mean? It's not supposed to be three entrees at dinner, but one entrée without much more beyond that."
The conference batted around several options, such as requiring all meals be eaten on campus or having a standardized list of acceptable restaurants, before settling on the university per diem plus 20 percent model. Matthews said the conference felt that was the fairest way of dealing with the fact that meals cost more in San Francisco and Seattle than Eugene or Pullman and that schools had vastly varying university per diems.
Big 12 spokesman Bob Burda said his conference has not adopted an overall policy on meals, leaving it up to each school. "But we don't have a lot of schools in large metropolitan areas," he said. "We don't have a lot of Ruth's Chris Steakhouses."
As for lodging, UW has decided that only hotels that have a previously negotiated rate with the school will be used for recruiting purposes.
"You can't put them in places with hot tubs or some palatial suite," Turner said. UW has used the downtown Westin in past years and continues to do so, but now can rent only the basic rooms.
And that means experiences such as those of UW offensive lineman Stanley Daniels on his recruiting trip to Nebraska are a thing of the past.
Daniels said the hotel he stayed in during his trip to Lincoln was the best he has ever seen. "You could have room service, it had the best TV, everything you wanted," Daniels said. "When you went on trips, there was a lot of stuff thrown at you."
Also now required is standard travel on a commercial airline at coach-class rates with no upgrades.
This has been tabbed by many as "the Oregon rule" because the Ducks had become known in recruiting for using a private plane to get recruits to Eugene.
"A lot of friends of mine were like, 'I'm going to Oregon because of the jet,' " Daniels said.
This rule won't have much impact at UW, where Sea-Tac provides an easy entry to Seattle, though Rick Neuheisel did hire a sea plane to ferry recruits from the Pierce County area to UW at least twice — once for Reggie Williams and another time for Shelton Sampson and Ryan Cole.
Told of UW's past uses of sea planes, Turner, an avowed advocate of the rules changes, called it "absolutely silly."
"That's what this is trying to get rid of," he said. "That's just trying to one-up the other guy and that has nothing to do with education or a normal student life. If the rules permitted it, that's OK. But that's the kind of thing that led to the change in the rules."
New UW coach Tyrone Willingham is also in favor of the rules changes, saying he thinks they are a good step in beginning to address larger "cultural problems" that affect all of society.
Some wonder, however, if some of the rules aren't going too far. Also eliminated were such traditional recruiting staples as recruiting hostesses — a group of women who would serve as guides for recruits during their visits — welcoming a recruit with his name on a hotel readerboard or football stadium scoreboard, and decorating a hotel room in any manner. Schools can also no longer present a recruit with a personalized jersey.
Robin Pflugrad, an assistant football coach and the recruiting coordinator at Washington State, said he thinks those changes may particularly hurt the Cougars, who by the nature of their location have to recruit differently than most other schools in the Pac-10.
"We've tried to be very, very creative, and in that respect, it hurts us," Pflugrad said. "Some of the bells and whistles have been taken away from us. We did a very nice job of making signs and balloons and jerseys and making the kids feel very special. We've had to take a big, black pen and mark out a lot of the things we used to do. It's become a very generic visit."
A lot of the other major changes, however, may not have the impact on WSU that they will on schools located in larger areas, such as UW.
Cougars recruits typically stay at the Holiday Inn, and a review of meal receipts for visits in previous years shows a steady stream of lunches and dinners at Cougar Country, Pizza Hut and Jack in the Box. The big meals for WSU recruits have traditionally been dinners at the home of coach Mike Price or Bill Doba.
"Most of our hotels are all standard accommodations anyway," said Steve Robertello, WSU's director of compliance. "We don't really have any hotels in this area I would consider luxury. Meal-wise, there's not a meal place here that's really excessive."
Matthews said that Pac-10 schools did not feel as if they were having major problems with their recruiting visits. Most schools, including Washington, already required recruits and the player who was their host to sign a declaration form saying they would not drink or otherwise break the law or NCAA rules. The declaration also says that they understand what those rules are.
Still, one UW player said such documents tend to be read, signed and quickly forgotten.
"Everybody parties, everybody drinks," he said, referring to all the recruiting visits he made while in high school. "I know some mothers won't like to hear that, but that's just the way it goes."
The big question is whether any of this will make much of a difference in which kids end up at which schools.
Officials and coaches at UW and WSU say it is far too early to tell what impact the rules changes are having. "We may not know for two or three recruiting cycles," Pflugrad said.
Willingham said he doesn't think any school should be affected more than any other because all the schools "will have the same challenges."
Most athletes say the wining and dining had little effect on their decision.
"Any mature kid knows that you are not going to be staying in a hotel every day of the week or that all that stuff is going to happen all the time," said UW fullback James Sims.
Sims also visited WSU during recruiting but said the difference in how the schools were able to entertain him during his trips had nothing to do with his decision.
Daniels reacted with mock horror when first told of the changes and said he doesn't think anything really had to be done. The athletes he knows, he said, already had it in perspective.
"Those things (the meals and hotel rooms) are the things you go back and tell your friends about," he said.
"But the things you really pay attention to are the campus and how friendly people are and who are the people who are hosting you."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company