Archive for Saturday, August 16, 2003

Problems point out need to recruit college athletes carefully

August 16, 2003


Recent trouble at a number of campuses -- including the University of Missouri, where there are questions about whether a star basketball player received money, clothing and special tutoring, all violations of NCAA policies -- points out the importance of coaches placing far more emphasis on recruiting top-flight individuals as well as top-flight athletes.

Also there is the caveat that universities need to give extra care in the types of individuals they select for their coaches and athletic directors.

At most major Division I universities, winning is the primary goal, at least in the eyes, minds and actions of those in the athletic department. With this mindset, what will a university administration tolerate to achieve a winning program and how much freedom will it allow a coach in assembling such a program?

It is obvious various university administrators, boards of trustees or other school governing bodies have different values and yardsticks to measure what winning actually means, the importance of winning and at what cost to the university that winning program comes.

Within Big 12 Conference athletic programs, there are many variances as to what different schools allow. Some schools allow or accept courses, grades and transfer credits for student-athlete admissions while the same courses, grades or credits are not acceptable at another school. Some coaches are allowed to run their programs pretty much as they wish, while other schools demand all operations be closely scrutinized by the athletic department or school administrators.

The fact is, there isn't a level playing field on which all participants abide by the same standards of admissions, personal behavior, coaches' conduct, academics, etc.

With this in mind, and at the start of a new administration in the KU athletic department, it is hoped it has been made clear to all parties that KU wants to win but it also wants to play the game the right way.

Former KU basketball coach Roy Williams is gone, and he has been replaced by Bill Self. Both men are top-flight coaches, and there is every reason for KU fans to be optimistic about the future excellence of the Jayhawk basketball program. Williams leaves many legacies, but one of the most important is the type of young men he encouraged to come to KU as student-athletes.

Aside from one or two players during the Williams years, team members performed well not only on the basketball court but also in the classroom. On and off campus, they behaved in a manner that reflected favorably on the university and the basketball program.

It is hoped Self will continue to recruit this type of student-athlete.

In the case of former Missouri basketball player Ricky Clemons, it is obvious he was a huge gamble for the school and the MU basketball coach. The coach and those in charge of the academic integrity of the university had to have known about the young man's past academic record and many other challenges he presented. Nevertheless, Clemons was admitted to the university.

News reports tell varying stories of what Clemons may have done, what was done for him to make him academically eligible, what financial assistance may have been provided, what the coach may have provided for Clemons and many other questions about whether everyone played by the rules or shut their eyes to obvious violations. It's also disappointing that the coach doesn't seem to remember what he may have given the player.

What price was MU willing to pay to have the services of a good basketball player and to increase the chances its team would advance to postseason play?

So many contracts for coaches contain clauses calling for added pay, bonuses or incentives if their team wins a certain number of games or a league title or advances to NCAA post-season play that there are bound to be times a coach justifies taking borderline students when he recruits an excellent football or basketball player.

Unfortunately, winning at any cost is what is most important in the minds of a good many coaches, and this is reflected in the type of students they recruit.

The KU athletic department is in the midst of major personnel changes with a new athletic director, a new basketball coach, a football coach entering his second season, a new women's tennis coach and changes in some important support staff positions.

It's open for speculation whether many of these support or administration people were told to leave or took that action on their own initiative. It wouldn't be surprising if other openings develop because athletic director Lew Perkins has made it clear he expects those in the department to work hard and perform to the best of their ability.

It is hoped the new KU athletic administration will be known for winning teams with winning players. With more than 500 young men and women in the program, there are bound to be disappointments, but such disappointments can be reduced substantially if those charged with reviewing academic transcripts of prospective recruits and those demanding athletes to perform and behave in a proper manner are diligent in their work.

The recent and ongoing situation at Missouri, the shooting tragedy at Baylor University and the number of athletes at some Big 12 schools who are facing court actions all should remind KU officials of the dangers of trying to win at any cost.

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