The Recruiting Controversy

The NCAA Standards: Recruiting

In sharp contrast to Harvard's active support of rule changes mandating stricter minimum academic requirements for college athletes, the University vehemently opposed restricting alumni recruiting of student-athletes. The rule change, which also won passage at the National Collegiate Athletic Association's (NCAA) January convention, has clouded the future of recruiting in the Ivy League, which relies heavily on alumni for wooing students because its recruiting is on a small scale.

While President Bok and his American Council on Education committee led the way in the adoption of the controversial test and grade minimums, a separate group succeeded in garnering support for this less-publicized change. Although Bok generally discusses NCAA issues in broad terms emphasizing the importance of measures aimed at improving the integrity of college sports, his position on the recruiting rule is adamant and parochial: "We are perpetually in fear that the NCAA, in order to solve its problems, is going to pass rules that simply don't fit our special situation, that will make life too difficult for us, that we'll have to seek some separate existence."

Complicating the already sticky issue of confining alumni--who, it is feared, can easily lure high school seniors with material offers--is apparent confusion over the rule's implications, even among Harvard officials. Dean of the College John B. Fox Jr. '59, who attended the NCAA conference in San Diego, believes that a clarification of the ruling made minutes after it passed makes the restriction far less threatening than first presumed. "So long as the alumni contact is not for the sole purpose of fostering a better athletic program, it will be allowed." Fox says. "That will probably give us some leeway."

Such a loose interpretation could mean that visits by alums to student-athletes for the purpose of discussing the overall opportunities offered by a university would be allowed. At a school like Harvard, where athletics are a less emphasized part of undergraduate life than at many other universities, a ruling like that would apparently be tolerable.

But that rosy view is not shared throughout the Ivy League--or even at Harvard. Football Coach Joe Restic believes that Harvard's recruiting program--which he estimates to be the smallest in the league--will suffer a great deal when the rule takes effect this August. "The heart of our program will be eliminated," says Restic. "There's no question that the most important part of our recruiting efforts are the alumni. All our people are touched by alumni in some way."


Restic's fears are echoed elsewhere. Though the University of Pensylvania is awaiting clarifications of the ruling from the NCAA. Penn Athletic director Charles Harris believes that the ruling "basically precludes any involvement from any alumni without a coach present." He adds, "Obviously I think all of the Ivy League relies heavily on alumni, and U of Penn is no exception." And Cornell University had planned to expand its alumni recruiting program, but says athletic director Michael L. Slive, "right now that's all on hold."

Harvard Athletic Director John P. Reardon '60 says that how the rule is put in practice will be crucial. "The problem lies in how this new ruling will be implemented," he says. "I would say that if anyone goes out looking for athletes expressly for Harvard, they would be violating the NCAA ruling." He adds, "However, if you've known a student for some time... and that student happens to be a very strong athlete, then there's really no way to enforce the ruling in that case."

While some Ivy coaches and athletic directors fret, other university officials express confidence similar to Fox's, believing that the rule will not affect the league as originally feared. Says Yale University Athletic Director Frank B. Ryan: "In no way will the NCAA ruiing affect Yale. Our alumni recruit not just athletes, but students who are athletes, and that's perfectly compatible by NCAA standards."

The situation regarding the new restriction will likely remain confused until the matter is clarified by Princeton's James Litback, who is charged with the responsibility for suggesting how the change should apply to Ivy League schools. Although Litback declined to detail the specifies of his report, he anticipates that any alumni contact with individual students which is not face-to-face will be allowed to continue. "The ruling specifies that off-campus contacts for the purpose of recruiting should be done by staff members, not other representatives of athletic interest, and this is not intended to interfere with the normal admissions process." Litback said. "The grey area of the ruling is what other alumni may do--those who are not designated as other representatives of athletic interests."

Officials, however, are not simply playing wait-and-see with the recruitment issue, which will likely become far more clear when Litback's report comes out within the next couple of weeks. The ad hoe athletics committee of the American Council on Education (ACE)--the Bok-chaired group which proposed the test and grade reform--last week divided into five subcommittees, including one which will look at recruitment and enforcement of recruiting measures. University of California at Los Angeles Chancellor Charles E. Young expects the ACE to have a recruiting proposal ready by November. "I believe there's a general feeling on the part of those on the committee that recruiting is too much pressure and that there's too much time involved." Young says.

Until that report debuts and the recent alumni rule becomes more clear, Ivy League and other schools will likely make few alternations in their programs. And some officials remain skeptical over how effective any guidelines will be. "What will probably have to happen before anyone knows exactly how to approach this rule is that there'll have to be some kind of test case." Reardon says. "For example, if Harvard gets a hold at some highly recruited football player that Notte Dame wanted, the question of alumni contact will lead to a real fight on the issue."

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