Zack Peñalva, Sports Editor
Everyone has secrets. Big and small, millions of little secrets run right under the surface of any major industry, and college athletics is no exception. It’s a strange balancing act – first priority tends to be on-field success, as it’s the ultimate determiner of if a program is worth having. Schools hire good coaches to recruit good players that will win prestige that make the former two steps possible. Then there are the off-field expectations that everyone involved (boosters, athletic directors, coaches and players) should keep the school’s image clean.
The first part is a pretty black and white test; either you win or you lose. But it’s the second part that has tripped up more and more schools as they try to play by the rules and make sure that they have every possible advantage over the competition.
For years, recruiting practices of schools in the NCAA have been regulated by a long and very strict set of rules. At times, the rules can seem a little too harsh. In USA Today, one article published the 21 NCAA recruiting violations that were called against the University of Auburn in 2014.
Among the offenses were two calls being placed to a prospect during a week only one call was allowed, a coach texted a recruit by accident thinking it was a current player, a coach visited a high school twice during the fall period when only one visit was allowed, etc. These violations were honest mistakes that were quickly self-reported and forgiven.
But that’s not always the case. Take the Louisville scandal that’s recently come back to national attention. In October of 2015, reports from ESPN’s program Outside the Lines indicated that highly rated high school recruits to the University of Louisville were allegedly being provided with strippers and “escort” services by the basketball team’s coaching staff in an effort to encourage their commitment to the school.
And it wasn’t a move made without precedent. In a podcast, former University of Michigan and NBA player Jalen Rose described the experiences he had during his own recruiting process. “When you take a visit, it’s festive…they’re only going to have you come to campus when it’s turned up,” said Rose. “As a 17-year-old kid, first off, if I’m not getting [sex], I’m not coming. I’m not signing. I’m not coming,” he said. Rose visited Syracuse, UNLV and Michigan State before deciding on Michigan.
In Louisville’s case, the university decided to make a decision before the NCAA did, banning the Cardinals from participating in any type of post-season tournament for the 2015-16 season. It was a swift move on the school’s part, one that’s quite telling, considering that the NCAA was not set to make any official moves on the investigation until the end of the current season.
If the administration was willing to take that drastic of a step before anything had actually been proven, there must have been some amount of truth to what was being said. It begs the question of how much the higher ups like head coach Rick Pitino or Athletic Director Tom Jurich knew of the whole situation and chose to remain silent before the allegations came out. And if that’s the case, how many others in positions of power in college athletic programs are keeping quiet?