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By Matt Spillane

POUGHKEEPSIE , N.Y. , MARCH 7. – Many college sports fans may see March as the pinnacle of the college basketball season and the off-season for college football. However, there is another season that is being played at this same time, an underground war being waged with possibly more intensity, determination, and relentlessness than any actual sports season. It is the season of recruiting.

Recruiting is a crucial aspect of college athletics. It is directly responsible for the success or failure of teams, maybe more so than practicing, training, or coaching. Many coaches spend more time trying to get the next crop of prized athletes than they do with their actual players.

The extremely high stakes of recruiting can sometimes compromise the values that coaches profess to teach: honesty, integrity, and loyalty. As expectations continue to rise and job security decreases, coaches in recent years have been more susceptible to temptations of dishonesty and disloyalty to win recruiting battles and achieve success at all costs.

Sophomore Matt Trodden said that pressure to recruit well and win consistently has been a major cause of the alarming rate at which college coaches are being fired these days.

“If you look at the coaching changes this year,” he said, “there have been a lot of ridiculous firings.”

There were more than a dozen college football head coaches fired either during or immediately after the 2007 season, including seven with winning records.

The latest example of college coaches succumbing to pressures of the job came two weeks ago, when Indiana University men’s basketball coach Kelvin Sampson was forced to resign. Sampson, who has amassed 496 career victories, was forced out after an NCAA investigation alleged that the coach and his staff had committed five major violations, including making improper phone calls to recruits.

The incident was particularly notable because it was Sampson’s second time being forced out of a coaching job because of recruiting violations involving improper phone calls to recruits. In May 2006, Sampson was found guilty of making 577 improper phone calls to recruits as head coach of Oklahoma, which resulted in the school being placed on probation.

Coaches are only allowed a certain number of phone calls to recruits, and the NCAA has strict guidelines as to how often coaches can contact recruits. Sampson knew these rules, and still decided to ignore them, twice.

He risked, and lost, his job on both occasions because of the enormous and sometimes unrealistic expectations that are heaped on coaches by school administrators, students, and fans. Coaches have never had a shorter amount of time to turn programs into winners, and so they sometimes resort to cheating and unethical methods to win with any means necessary.

“Some coaches will go to whatever lengths necessary to get the best players, even if it’s by illegal means,” said Chris Caputi, freshmen basketball coach at Kennedy Catholic High School in Somers, New York. Caputi said that coaching positions are becoming increasingly competitive, which has resulted in coaches turning to shady methods of luring recruits.

Recruiting scandals and dishonesty are not limited to basketball. College football experiences its share of unethical behavior as well. A common example of dishonorable recruiting tactics in college football made headlines a week ago.

Daniel Smith, a high school senior from Idaho, announced last week that he is suing the University of Hawaii and former assistant football coach Jeff Reinebold. The standout defensive back has been left without a college to attend next fall due to a situation that was out of his control.

Last fall, Smith verbally committed to play football for Hawaii. However, Hawaii’s coaches offered him a scholarship on the condition that Smith had to tell other schools that he was not interested in their scholarship offers because he was already committed to Hawaii.

After the football season, Hawaii’s head coach, June Jones, left the school to coach Southern Methodist University. When the new coaching staff came in, it informed Smith that he was not going to be offered a scholarship. Smith’s mother called dozens of schools to find another team that would offer him a scholarship, but none of the schools had any left to give, leaving Smith without any options.

Teams are allowed to change their minds like this because the commitment that Smith made was merely verbal, and therefore nonbinding. Commitments are not official until recruits have signed letters of intent, which are not authorized until February. Therefore, coaches can make and break promises to recruits without any consequences.

“Some coaches will do whatever it takes to win,” Caputi said.

It does not appear that this trend of recruiting without accountability and concern for student athletes’ well-being will dwindle any time soon. Two telling signs of which direction the state of recruiting is going in will be whether or not Kelvin Sampson gets hired yet again because of his high career win total, and if Daniel Smith ever receives the scholarship that he was promised.


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