Two months ago athletic departments faced a historic deadline that passed with little fanfare. By Dec. 1, schools had to put in writing and file their recruiting policies with their conference offices.
|Hart Lee Dykes was involved in '80s scandals at multiple schools. (Getty Images)|
Nice idea, this reform, assuming everyone buys in. Private planes and extravagant surf-and-turf dinners already have been eliminated. The problem with recruiting, though, is that it doesn't end with Wednesday's signing day. It only morphs into another stage.
It seems that no amount of reform can change the lengths schools will go to get their boys-to-men. And by schools, we mean by extension to the coaches, boosters and anyone who fuels the insane recruiting frenzy.
Item: Can't prove it. Have no way of knowing it. But one story making the rounds this recruiting season is that one coach has guaranteed the number of touches a big-time recruit will get as a freshman. There's supposedly some language about Heisman promotion too.
The disturbingly ironic twist: The coach supposedly put his promises in writing. We're way of ahead you if you're thinking, "Was that before or after Dec. 1?"
Item: The Logan Young racketeering trial in Memphis. Young, an Alabama booster, allegedly paid $150,000 to secure the services of former high school phenom Albert Means.
The NCAA already slapped Alabama with penalties. But the story doesn't end there. In fact it might be the beginning, recruiting-wise. Means' former high school coach testified that as many as eight schools offered inducements. The kid, essentially an indentured athletic servant, never saw a dime.
|Recruiting top 10|
|(As of Jan. 31)|
|7. Virginia Tech|
The shock of the revelations was almost drowned out by the schools' denials. Almost. Until they got too humorous to ignore. When Lynn Lang, Means' high school coach, outed the schools, they began running for the hills faster than Jed Clampett going 'possum huntin'.
Michigan State denied involvement by two assistants who (of course) couldn't be identified because their grand jury testimony was secret. In other words no one said anything to anybody about nothing but the school was sure its assistants didn't get into the bidding.
Item: Ever heard of the term "plausible deniability"? It was first applied to the CIA in the 1950s when covert operations went wrong. Plausible deniability means people could deny the source of their orders. They didn't know -- or didn't want to know -- from how high up those orders originated.
Modern reference: Think Watergate.
Recruiting reference: A coach doesn't want -- or have to -- know what's going on. All he has to say/indicate/signal with semaphores is, "Get me this guy."
Surprise, the recruit scratches his name on signing day.
The point is the cheating doesn't stop once the recruit signs his letter of intent. There's so much more work to do to fulfill promises made on the recruiting trail.
Item: ATMs not only have been a boon to Western Civilization but also opened a new door to the recruiting process.
In this scam, the kid doesn't even have to meet his Sugar Daddy. An ATM card arrives in the mail. If the NCAA somehow gets to the money trail, all the withdrawals are in the name of the booster.
Item: The legendary Hart Lee Dykes of Oklahoma State literally put multiple schools on probation more than 15 years ago. The Cowboys finally won the "bidding" for his services in a scandal that involved two assistant coaches and 14 boosters, one of whom was a former member of the board of regents.
Dykes' payoff was a nice set of expensive wheels. But he was allegedly getting money for car payments each month from three different boosters. The problem was, only one of those payments was needed to pay for the car. When the other two boosters found out, you can imagine their surprise at their guy actually lining his pockets with their money. Shameful, don't you think?
Ah, but kids have long ago figured out how to work both ends against the middle.
Item: Also in the 1980s, the story goes that Team A gave a superstar prep running back a car. Team B knew about it and encouraged the kid to keep the car and come to their school.
The recruit did just that, comfortable in the fact that neither school would turn in the other. One school got its player; the other didn't want to drop a dime on itself by speaking out.
Have we come very far from the time when SMU literally decided that a national championship was worth the cheating to get there? It didn't get the championship but it did get darn close. It also got the first, and so far only, NCAA death penalty.
In the 18 years since the Ponies got The Big Haircut, SMU's gross misconduct made sure the death penalty would never be used again. It's obvious to schools that an act of contrition to the NCAA and stableful of lawyers can eventually smooth over any situation.
It's logical, then, that a Rick Neuheisel evolved from the primordial recruiting ooze.
Item: Neuheisel's recruiting philosophy actually was to "push the envelope". The king of the bend-but-don't-break recruiting rules seemingly knew exactly what he was doing. It was slick and without the renegade arrogance of SMU.
Neuheisel had a unique way of getting around one annoying "dead period" when coaches can't contact players face to face. He parked outside a recruit's house, rang him up on a cell phone and directed him to the front door. The two shot the breeze over the phone, but never -- in Neuheisel's mind -- really met face to face.
Does plausible deniability come to mind?
Item: Back to where it all began a year ago. The school that slapped itself with stifling recruiting restrictions in the wake of last year's recruiting scandal has backed off just a little.
Originally when the changes were made at Colorado in August, current players couldn't act as hosts. In early December coaches asked for limited time between recruits and current players.
Also, on-campus visits were originally prohibited during the season. The school eventually allowed seven on-campus visits in 2004, down from 20. Colorado says it didn't lose one recruit who cited the scandal as a reason.
Nothing wrong with that, really. But the school is deciding that there is a limit to reform. The school can only hope its own personal hell is over. Meanwhile, recruiting creativity continues to outstrip recruiting reform.