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College recruits and "hostesses": where is the line drawn?

Posted by: Michael Rand under NCAA: football Updated: December 9, 2009 - 12:32 PM

Let's start with a straight pull of the first paragraph of an interesting NY Times story from today:

The N.C.A.A. is conducting a wide-ranging investigation into the University of Tennessee’s football recruiting practices, according to interviews with several prospects, their family members and high school administrators. A significant part of the investigation is focused on the use of recruiting hostesses who have become folk heroes on Tennessee Internet message boards for their ability to help lure top recruits.

The gist of the rest of it is how Tennessee uses pretty girls to help curry favor with potential recruits. (Hardly shocking). What's unclear is exactly what happens beyond what we imagine is standard flirting or even some extreme but fairly innocent behavior (like driving 200 miles to a recruit's high school game, mentioned in the story); also unknown is exactly who is pulling the strings -- whether the hostesses are essentially acting on their own, whether the school is sending them on these missions, or (most likely in our view), there is an element of implied expectations that the school would rather not know about but absolutely wants carried out. Whatever is happening is enough to draw the attention of the NCAA in a serious investigation.

What is probable is that the vast majority of schools with big-time athletics has (or had at one time) a similar stable of female hostesses. From a 2004 Star Tribune story, in the wake of a mini-scandal about Gophers football recruits being taken to strip clubs:

The recruits also may be assigned a female student to show them around campus, part of the university's Go-pher Gold club, which aids the football program in recruiting. That appears destined for significant change, perhaps even elimination. An NCAA task force on recruiting has recommended that host groups be moved from the Athletic Department to the admissions office. The task force is soliciting reaction to several proposed changes in recruiting practices, and is expected to consider final recommendations in early July. The NCAA Board of Directors plans to approve changes in recruiting policy by August. Those changes appear likely to include the disbanding of traditionally female host groups such as Go-pher Gold.

That article suggested these groups have been around since the early 1960s and got their start with the Bama Belles of Bear Bryant's Crimson Tide teams. It would appear those types of programs did not, indeed, go away in the time between that Strib story and now, even though the standards were tweaked (the Tennessee group appears in the football program's media guide, so they are hardly trying to hide this).The Strib story also indicated there was no evidence of improprieties between U recruits and hostesses, though it also referenced other incidents at other schools were sex between recruits and hostesses was common. The NY Times story makes no overt assertions about what goes on between hostesses and recruits, but it did include this paragraph that allows the mind to wander and the eyes to read between the lines:

Two of Lattimore’s teammates, Brandon Willis and Corey Miller, have orally committed to Tennessee. Lattimore described the hostesses as “real pretty, real nice and just real cool.” He said he thought they had “a lot” of influence in Miller’s and Willis’s commitments to Tennessee.

Our question is this: where is the line drawn for something like this? Should "hostess" programs even exist -- are they part of an outdated and chauvinistic culture that contribute to a sense of athlete entitlement? Are they OK and allowable as long as there is oversight and evaluation on a case-by-case basis? Or is it a widespread enough generally accepted institution that should fall under the "don't ask, don't tell" category?

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