In an attempt to eliminate what NCAA President Myles Brand called a "culture of entitlement" in college sports recruiting, the NCAA yesterday approved several rules changes that ban schools from using private planes, extravagant hotels, high-priced meals and other perks to lure athletes.
The NCAA Division I Board of Directors approved the changes, which were made by a recruiting task force created in February by Brand, who vowed to clean up recruiting after high-profile scandals occurred at the University of Colorado and University of Miami. The new rules prohibit the use of charter flights or private planes on recruiting trips, and require schools to use standard vehicles to transport prospects from airports and offer "standard meals similar to those offered on campus." In the past, some schools picked up recruits in limousines and fed them lavish meals.
The NCAA also prohibited schools from using jerseys and scoreboard presentations to entice recruits during their visits. The new rules, which will particularly affect football programs, require schools to develop written policies that specifically prohibit inappropriate or illegal behavior in recruiting, including strippers, underage drinking and gambling. University presidents must approve the policies, and they must be filed with each school's conference by Dec. 1.
The changes had been anticipated for months. This summer, Colorado made sweeping changes in its recruiting practices after several women alleged that the football program used sex and alcohol to lure recruits. Willie Williams of Miami, the nation's top-rated linebacker prospect, kept a diary of his recruiting visits for the Miami Herald, and wrote of eating four lobster tails and steak during his visit to Florida State, and of staying in a hotel suite with a jacuzzi and flying alone on a private jet during his two-day visit to Miami.
"I don't think the measures they took are quite that big," Minnesota Coach Glen Mason said yesterday during the Big Ten preseason news conference in Chicago. "I was in favor, to be quite honest, of shortening the official visit to one overnight stay. I have always been nervous about taking high school kids, for a weekend, under our supervision and putting them in a college setting.
"Let's face it: Some of these kids have a distorted view of themselves. They think they are the biggest, baddest guy who has ever come down the road. Things are going to happen you can't control."
But some college coaches have criticized the changes, saying the NCAA overacted to the incidents at Colorado and Miami.
"I absolutely feel that it was a knee-jerk reaction," Purdue Coach Joe Tiller said, also at the Big Ten's news conference.
Purdue is among the schools that will be affected most by the ban on chartered and private planes. Purdue's campus in West Lafayette, Ind., is about 63 miles from the closest airport in Indianapolis. The new rules won't affect Maryland, Navy or Virginia, which are located near airports, but Virginia Tech's campus in Blacksburg is a 45-minute drive from the closest airport in Roanoke.
"It really affects schools very differently," Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer said last month at the ACC's annual football news conference. "Getting to Blacksburg or to Atlanta is much different. These rules are supposed to make things equal for everybody. In that particular part, they made it unequal."
Miami Coach Larry Coker admits the Hurricanes probably have an advantage over ACC schools such as Clemson and Virginia Tech, which aren't located near airports.
"It's definitely an advantage to us," Coker said. "We were recruiting, for example, a kid from Houston, which is no problem. Boom boom, he's here. If there's some school that has an airport two or three hours away, it will be inconvenient. The kid will fly to that place and then drive a couple of hours to get to the school and he may be thinking, 'Where am I going?' "
Coaches say chartered planes allow them to fly recruits to campus on Friday nights, after prospects have played in high school basketball games. The NCAA allows a recruit to spend only 48 hours on campus during an official visit. If they spend much of the first day traveling, then they won't get to spend enough time on campus, some coaches argue.
"You want them to see as much of college life as they can," Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden said. "You want them to see the parties, you want them to see the fraternities, you want them to see where they can eat. But you don't want them getting into stuff they shouldn't get into."
But the chartered flights are costly. Virginia spent more than $12,000 on seven chartered flights to bring recruits to campus during this past year. During the 2002-03 recruiting season, the Cavaliers used only three chartered flights at a cost of $8,690. Georgia spent $5,500 on chartered flights for five prospects, three of whom signed national letters of intent with the Bulldogs in February.
Travel is the biggest cost during a prospect's official visit to campus. If a recruit and his parents fly on commercial airlines, the official visit generally costs an athletics department between $1,000 and $2,000. Virginia spent $46,250 on the official visits for the 25 recruits who signed to play for the Cavaliers in February, an average cost of $1,850. Georgia spent an average of $760.50 on the official visits for the 36 players who visited campus this year, most of whom didn't need airline tickets because they were from Georgia.
Bowden says schools that have a fertile recruiting base in their own states, and don't have to recruit nationally, will not be affected by the new rules. But schools in states that don't traditionally produce a lot of college football prospects -- such as Nebraska, South Carolina and Tennessee -- could be most affected by the changes.
"I feel like schools in the state of Florida, you can cut down all the rules you want, and it will affect us less than anybody," Bowden said. "The people it hurts when you start restricting travel are state schools that have to depend on the whole country to get their players, such as Nebraska. I don't think it will hurt schools in Texas, California and Georgia. Why? Because they are the most productive states in the United States for college football players."
Florida spent more than $32,000 on catered meals for recruits and their families. The meals cost $39.50 each, and the Gators paid an extra $300 per night for a chocolate fountain. The school spent nearly $9,000 for recruits' lodging at the Hilton Conference Center in Gainesville.
The records show the costs of the official visits are just a small percentage of the school's recruiting budgets. Football coaches spend as much time recruiting during the spring and fall evaluation periods. Last year, the University of Georgia spent more than $34,000 during evaluation periods, which generally last 3 1/2 months combined. The Bulldogs spent $485,000 on football recruiting altogether.
Staff Writer Eric Prisbell contributed to this report.