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How Sports Stars Are Found

RECRUITING THE CRIMSON SECOND IN A TWO-PART SERIES

By Jonathan N. Axelrod and Victoria E.M. Cain

As a high school quarterback in Las Vegas, Jay A. Snowden '98 was recruited by coaches from the University of Utah, the University of Nevada at Las Vegas and Brigham Young University--the latter a quarterback factory that produced San Francisco 49ers signal-caller Steve Young.

But Snowden also considered offers from the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard.

Ultimately he acquiesced to Harvard's unrelenting recruitment efforts, which included weekly calls from football coaches and a free cross-country flight to Cambridge.

On the visit, players and coaches showed him Harvard from the perspective of a football player. But when Harvard Football Coach Timothy L. Murphy sat down with Snowden, he stressed academics--repeating a line used by dozens of Harvard coaches.

"He told me 'if you say no to Harvard, it will be hard telling people your whole life that you could have gone there and didn't,'" Snowden recalls. "'It's just not the same.'"

Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons '67 says athletic recruiting is similar to the College's efforts to find the best math students or chess champions.

But athletic recruits describe a sophisticated process and tense recruiting culture unlike any experience other applicants may have.

Recruits are intensely aware that applying to Harvard as an athlete means applying to two different places: the academic College in Harvard Yard and the athletic program across the river.

This situation makes recruiting stressful for coaches, who must find prime athletes who can also hurdle the academic standards set by the admissions office. But the relative lack of sway that coaches have over who gets in makes Harvard seem a more relaxed alternative to the high-pressure recruiting of traditional athletic powers like Snowden's alternative suitor, Brigham Young.

"There were situations at other schools where a coach would say 'I need to know if you're going to come here. If you say you will, I'll help you out and put you at such and such a level on the recruiting list,'" says Amy L. Mecklenburg '98, who was recruited for Radcliffe crew.

"Harvard didn't do that," she says. "[Varsity Heavyweight Crew Coach Liz O'Leary] came to me and said 'We'd like to have you come and row, and we'll help you out if we can, but we can't guarantee anything.' It's just not a high-pressure recruiting place."

Early Contact

Some colleges begin recruiting students when they are still in junior high. Harvard generally makes its first contact with prospects during their sophomore or junior years of high school. Then, recruits receive information packets and letters from coaches.

Harvard coaches will also scout players through summer camps or the Olympic Development Program. They also pore over All-State and All-American lists, and sit quietly in the stands at regional tournaments.

"For Canadian recruiting, the coaches take road trips," says hockey defenseman J. Ashlin Halfnight '97, a native of Ontario. "They pick you out on the ice at tournaments and league games."

Many recruits say that either they or their high school coaches had long-standing connections to Harvard athletics. Football captain Justin E. Frantz '96, who grew up in western Pennsylvania, says his high school coach knew Richard C. Corbin, the offensive coordinator under former football coach Joseph Restic.

Emily H. Stauffer '98, who was last year's women's soccer Ivy League Rookie of the Year and this year's Player of the Year came to Harvard after having played for soccer coach Tim Wheaton in the Olympic Development Program.

"Tim Wheaton has been my soccer coach since I was 13," Stauffer says. "He is really honest, really good. I think my decision to come here had a lot to do with the fact that I'd known him for a long time."

The Home Field

The recruiting process picks up in July after an athlete's junior year of high school--when the NCAA allows coaches to begin telephoning and visiting recruits at home. (For football, the embargo on personal contact does not lift until August 1).

This gives coaches their first chance to sell parents on a school and to tell recruits how they fit into the plans of a given team.

"When they visit or call...they'll usually let you know what kind of interest level they have in you and what plans they have for you in the program," Halfnight says. "If you have a particular skill they're lacking, like scoring, they'll make that clear. They'll say they're really interested in your scoring touch, they need some goals and they want you."

Recruits say the interest a school shows is determined not only by what it says, but also by how frequent the contact is.

"Some coaches call you every week on the same day, at the same time, and you can tell from their questions that they're really interested in you," says hockey player Marco J. Ferrari '97. "And some schools wait a while, maybe call you every couple weeks. The phone calls let you know where you stand."

These visits are heavily regulated by the NCAA. Because of one intercollegiate rule, Restic was not even permitted to recruit his own son when he was applying to schools in the late 1970s.

Instead, Restic suffered in silence as Yale coach Carm Cozza visited his home and talked up New Haven.

Says Restic: "Thank God my son went to Notre Dame."

Away Games

Home visits and flattering letters only go so far. A recruit's trip to Cambridge is the centerpiece of the recruiting process, providing coaches their best opportunity to convince an athlete to attend.

Most recruits are flown in for NCAA regulated 48-hour weekend visits, and are hosted by current team members. Recruits from the Boston area often come to campus for a shorter amount of time--a day, or even a single afternoon.

Whatever their visits' lengths, recruits generally tour the campus and the athletic facilities, meet the coach and an admissions officer, and attend a practice or a game.

Many of these trips are tame, straightforward introductions to Harvard. Other visits include rowdy trips to local bars, final clubs and parties. On each trip, recruits have to negotiate the challenges of a weekend away on a campus full of eccentrics.

Take Restic, for example. For their safety, football recruits had to be warned in advance about the "Restic handshake."

"You'd walk in and see this little old guy sitting in this chair," says Thomas F. Hass '97, an offensive line recruit. "Then, out of nowhere, this hand would shoot out at you and if you didn't catch it half-way it would just knock you back. Then he rolled your knuckles around for a while."

Restic explains the tradition: "I guess I wanted to see how tough they were."

The recruiting style of Restic's successor. Tim Murphy, is less idiosyncratic. He methodically overhauled the recruiting schedule, added scheduled meetings with coaches and admissions officers, and offered more complete campus tours.

"There are a lot of ways to skin a cat," Murphy says. "We've tried to add a little more structure so the student-athlete can make the most of their 36 hours--give them a great tour not only of the facilities but of the whole campus."

Restic, in contrast, left the campus tours entirely to the athlete's student-host. Players recruited under the old regime say they miss the freedom of the Restic days. But they acknowledge that the more regimented visits are good for the program.

"I do think everyone gets more out of the trip now," says Frantz, who admits he spent much of his own recruiting trip partying. "My parents felt the trip I took left a little to be desired.

"I didn't meet with a physics professor when I came here, but I've had recruits who wanted to talk to professors. They did that for me at Princeton and Colgate," he adds. "I think they've gotten better with that now."

Murphy has also added an organized dinner in the Kennedy School penthouse for prospects during particularly heavy recruiting weekends. Parents, coaches, athletic department administrators and even deans are invited to attend.

"That's the best thing about hosting a recruit," Frantz says. "When I was here [as a recruit] I went to dinner with Coach Corbin and a lot of other Western Pennsylvania kids, but it was nothing organized."

Murphy's get-togethers are one example of more focused recruiting at Harvard. But its Ivy League competitors usually go further.

Hass says coaches at Princeton took his parents out for private dinners. Princeton's track coach, in particular, is notorious for his hard-nosed sales tactics.

"The team all has stories about other coaches in the League, particularly the Princeton coach," says Margaret B. Angell '98, who runs track. "Everyone that he recruited who decided not to go to Princeton says they hung up the telephone in tears at least once after speaking to him when he found out they weren't going to Princeton."

After Hours

Each recruit is paired up with a team player, and such visits can be carefully planned. Some players say they receive a little money to give recruits a meal; the rest is up to them.

"When we get [high-priority] recruits, we really strategize about their visits," Stauffer says.

Teams try to plan activities around the interests of the recruit. In some cases, current students will be matched with recruits who are likely to play similar roles on teams.

When Allison S. Feaster '98--a top talent on the women's basketball team--was recruited, she was placed with career scoring leader Tammy Butler '95.

It was a casual night, with the once and future team leaders dining at Faneuil Hall with the coaches and then heading home to watch TV. Feaster says she treats her recruits in the same low-key way.

"I just had a recruit two weekends ago" she says. "We went to the Head of the Charles and to see a movie. She had some homework to do, and so did I, so we studied a little and went to Tommy's."

Recruiting visits in some other sports--especially football--are not nearly so tame. Football players recall stories about alcohol binges involving the now-closed D.U. finals club, the Crimson Sports Grille and Mather House parties.

"During my visit here, we went out drinking at the D.U., then went to the Grille and some parties, and then went back to the D.U.," says a former member of the football team, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"I had a drinking contest with some guy at the club and then I passed out," the former football player adds. "I remember my host waking me up at 7:00 a.m. and telling me to get up because we had to have breakfast with the coach and me thinking 'Oh God.'"

Football is not the only sports which includes drinking as part of a recruiting visit.

"One Halloween we had a recruit and we made her dress up like us as a member of the Sean Cassidy fan club--and we all went out and got drunk," says Heather I. Clark '96, who was recruited for crew.

"Drinking is sort of the unwritten rule," she adds. "You want them to have a good time and if they get drunk, so much the better."

One crew recruit, however, was shocked on her recruiting top when a Mather House elevator opened to reveal several drunk, naked men. After many assurances from her host that this was not typical for this campus, the recruit enrolled at Harvard.

Facing the Music

Coaches rank recruits in terms of their potential value to the program, but the admissions office has the final say.

Fitzsimmons, the admissions dean, says his office uses the broken leg test for athletes: "Would the acceptance be a good one if the athlete steps off the curve and breaks their leg in 15 places in June?"

Recruited athletes face a slightly different admissions process from other students.

Coaches want to size up their teams early in the academic year, so they can identify for whom to advocate in spring discussions with the admissions office. Thus, coaches encourage good prospects to apply early, and a high percentage of recruited athletes are accepted in December.

Other recruits receive letters in February advising that they are "likely" admits. This admissions office tactic lets recruits know where they stand before they are confronted with signing deadlines from other schools.

Brian D. Borg '96, who plays football, says the financial aid process also allows for speedier response to athletes applications. And athletes on work-study are often cased into jobs at athletic facilities.

But those are the only two financial benefits given to recruits, athletes say.

"It shows we can field our best team without giving people things or screwing with financial aid," Halfnight says.

Athletic powers often recruit against Harvard by noting that the University does not give athletic scholarships. But officials here say need based and covers many athletes from poor and lower middle class backgrounds.

Money aside, Feaster says the main draw of Harvard for athletes is the same as for other students: the University's academic reputation.

"While the money would be appreciated," Feaster says, "Harvard's education is incomparable."Crimson file photo(Left) EMILY H. STAUFFER '98 breaks away in women's soccer. (Below) Sophomore football coach TIMOTHY L. MURPHY has formalized his team's recruiting process.

"He told me 'if you say no to Harvard, it will be hard telling people your whole life that you could have gone there and didn't,'" Snowden recalls. "'It's just not the same.'"

Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons '67 says athletic recruiting is similar to the College's efforts to find the best math students or chess champions.

But athletic recruits describe a sophisticated process and tense recruiting culture unlike any experience other applicants may have.

Recruits are intensely aware that applying to Harvard as an athlete means applying to two different places: the academic College in Harvard Yard and the athletic program across the river.

This situation makes recruiting stressful for coaches, who must find prime athletes who can also hurdle the academic standards set by the admissions office. But the relative lack of sway that coaches have over who gets in makes Harvard seem a more relaxed alternative to the high-pressure recruiting of traditional athletic powers like Snowden's alternative suitor, Brigham Young.

"There were situations at other schools where a coach would say 'I need to know if you're going to come here. If you say you will, I'll help you out and put you at such and such a level on the recruiting list,'" says Amy L. Mecklenburg '98, who was recruited for Radcliffe crew.

"Harvard didn't do that," she says. "[Varsity Heavyweight Crew Coach Liz O'Leary] came to me and said 'We'd like to have you come and row, and we'll help you out if we can, but we can't guarantee anything.' It's just not a high-pressure recruiting place."

Early Contact

Some colleges begin recruiting students when they are still in junior high. Harvard generally makes its first contact with prospects during their sophomore or junior years of high school. Then, recruits receive information packets and letters from coaches.

Harvard coaches will also scout players through summer camps or the Olympic Development Program. They also pore over All-State and All-American lists, and sit quietly in the stands at regional tournaments.

"For Canadian recruiting, the coaches take road trips," says hockey defenseman J. Ashlin Halfnight '97, a native of Ontario. "They pick you out on the ice at tournaments and league games."

Many recruits say that either they or their high school coaches had long-standing connections to Harvard athletics. Football captain Justin E. Frantz '96, who grew up in western Pennsylvania, says his high school coach knew Richard C. Corbin, the offensive coordinator under former football coach Joseph Restic.

Emily H. Stauffer '98, who was last year's women's soccer Ivy League Rookie of the Year and this year's Player of the Year came to Harvard after having played for soccer coach Tim Wheaton in the Olympic Development Program.

"Tim Wheaton has been my soccer coach since I was 13," Stauffer says. "He is really honest, really good. I think my decision to come here had a lot to do with the fact that I'd known him for a long time."

The Home Field

The recruiting process picks up in July after an athlete's junior year of high school--when the NCAA allows coaches to begin telephoning and visiting recruits at home. (For football, the embargo on personal contact does not lift until August 1).

This gives coaches their first chance to sell parents on a school and to tell recruits how they fit into the plans of a given team.

"When they visit or call...they'll usually let you know what kind of interest level they have in you and what plans they have for you in the program," Halfnight says. "If you have a particular skill they're lacking, like scoring, they'll make that clear. They'll say they're really interested in your scoring touch, they need some goals and they want you."

Recruits say the interest a school shows is determined not only by what it says, but also by how frequent the contact is.

"Some coaches call you every week on the same day, at the same time, and you can tell from their questions that they're really interested in you," says hockey player Marco J. Ferrari '97. "And some schools wait a while, maybe call you every couple weeks. The phone calls let you know where you stand."

These visits are heavily regulated by the NCAA. Because of one intercollegiate rule, Restic was not even permitted to recruit his own son when he was applying to schools in the late 1970s.

Instead, Restic suffered in silence as Yale coach Carm Cozza visited his home and talked up New Haven.

Says Restic: "Thank God my son went to Notre Dame."

Away Games

Home visits and flattering letters only go so far. A recruit's trip to Cambridge is the centerpiece of the recruiting process, providing coaches their best opportunity to convince an athlete to attend.

Most recruits are flown in for NCAA regulated 48-hour weekend visits, and are hosted by current team members. Recruits from the Boston area often come to campus for a shorter amount of time--a day, or even a single afternoon.

Whatever their visits' lengths, recruits generally tour the campus and the athletic facilities, meet the coach and an admissions officer, and attend a practice or a game.

Many of these trips are tame, straightforward introductions to Harvard. Other visits include rowdy trips to local bars, final clubs and parties. On each trip, recruits have to negotiate the challenges of a weekend away on a campus full of eccentrics.

Take Restic, for example. For their safety, football recruits had to be warned in advance about the "Restic handshake."

"You'd walk in and see this little old guy sitting in this chair," says Thomas F. Hass '97, an offensive line recruit. "Then, out of nowhere, this hand would shoot out at you and if you didn't catch it half-way it would just knock you back. Then he rolled your knuckles around for a while."

Restic explains the tradition: "I guess I wanted to see how tough they were."

The recruiting style of Restic's successor. Tim Murphy, is less idiosyncratic. He methodically overhauled the recruiting schedule, added scheduled meetings with coaches and admissions officers, and offered more complete campus tours.

"There are a lot of ways to skin a cat," Murphy says. "We've tried to add a little more structure so the student-athlete can make the most of their 36 hours--give them a great tour not only of the facilities but of the whole campus."

Restic, in contrast, left the campus tours entirely to the athlete's student-host. Players recruited under the old regime say they miss the freedom of the Restic days. But they acknowledge that the more regimented visits are good for the program.

"I do think everyone gets more out of the trip now," says Frantz, who admits he spent much of his own recruiting trip partying. "My parents felt the trip I took left a little to be desired.

"I didn't meet with a physics professor when I came here, but I've had recruits who wanted to talk to professors. They did that for me at Princeton and Colgate," he adds. "I think they've gotten better with that now."

Murphy has also added an organized dinner in the Kennedy School penthouse for prospects during particularly heavy recruiting weekends. Parents, coaches, athletic department administrators and even deans are invited to attend.

"That's the best thing about hosting a recruit," Frantz says. "When I was here [as a recruit] I went to dinner with Coach Corbin and a lot of other Western Pennsylvania kids, but it was nothing organized."

Murphy's get-togethers are one example of more focused recruiting at Harvard. But its Ivy League competitors usually go further.

Hass says coaches at Princeton took his parents out for private dinners. Princeton's track coach, in particular, is notorious for his hard-nosed sales tactics.

"The team all has stories about other coaches in the League, particularly the Princeton coach," says Margaret B. Angell '98, who runs track. "Everyone that he recruited who decided not to go to Princeton says they hung up the telephone in tears at least once after speaking to him when he found out they weren't going to Princeton."

After Hours

Each recruit is paired up with a team player, and such visits can be carefully planned. Some players say they receive a little money to give recruits a meal; the rest is up to them.

"When we get [high-priority] recruits, we really strategize about their visits," Stauffer says.

Teams try to plan activities around the interests of the recruit. In some cases, current students will be matched with recruits who are likely to play similar roles on teams.

When Allison S. Feaster '98--a top talent on the women's basketball team--was recruited, she was placed with career scoring leader Tammy Butler '95.

It was a casual night, with the once and future team leaders dining at Faneuil Hall with the coaches and then heading home to watch TV. Feaster says she treats her recruits in the same low-key way.

"I just had a recruit two weekends ago" she says. "We went to the Head of the Charles and to see a movie. She had some homework to do, and so did I, so we studied a little and went to Tommy's."

Recruiting visits in some other sports--especially football--are not nearly so tame. Football players recall stories about alcohol binges involving the now-closed D.U. finals club, the Crimson Sports Grille and Mather House parties.

"During my visit here, we went out drinking at the D.U., then went to the Grille and some parties, and then went back to the D.U.," says a former member of the football team, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"I had a drinking contest with some guy at the club and then I passed out," the former football player adds. "I remember my host waking me up at 7:00 a.m. and telling me to get up because we had to have breakfast with the coach and me thinking 'Oh God.'"

Football is not the only sports which includes drinking as part of a recruiting visit.

"One Halloween we had a recruit and we made her dress up like us as a member of the Sean Cassidy fan club--and we all went out and got drunk," says Heather I. Clark '96, who was recruited for crew.

"Drinking is sort of the unwritten rule," she adds. "You want them to have a good time and if they get drunk, so much the better."

One crew recruit, however, was shocked on her recruiting top when a Mather House elevator opened to reveal several drunk, naked men. After many assurances from her host that this was not typical for this campus, the recruit enrolled at Harvard.

Facing the Music

Coaches rank recruits in terms of their potential value to the program, but the admissions office has the final say.

Fitzsimmons, the admissions dean, says his office uses the broken leg test for athletes: "Would the acceptance be a good one if the athlete steps off the curve and breaks their leg in 15 places in June?"

Recruited athletes face a slightly different admissions process from other students.

Coaches want to size up their teams early in the academic year, so they can identify for whom to advocate in spring discussions with the admissions office. Thus, coaches encourage good prospects to apply early, and a high percentage of recruited athletes are accepted in December.

Other recruits receive letters in February advising that they are "likely" admits. This admissions office tactic lets recruits know where they stand before they are confronted with signing deadlines from other schools.

Brian D. Borg '96, who plays football, says the financial aid process also allows for speedier response to athletes applications. And athletes on work-study are often cased into jobs at athletic facilities.

But those are the only two financial benefits given to recruits, athletes say.

"It shows we can field our best team without giving people things or screwing with financial aid," Halfnight says.

Athletic powers often recruit against Harvard by noting that the University does not give athletic scholarships. But officials here say need based and covers many athletes from poor and lower middle class backgrounds.

Money aside, Feaster says the main draw of Harvard for athletes is the same as for other students: the University's academic reputation.

"While the money would be appreciated," Feaster says, "Harvard's education is incomparable."Crimson file photo(Left) EMILY H. STAUFFER '98 breaks away in women's soccer. (Below) Sophomore football coach TIMOTHY L. MURPHY has formalized his team's recruiting process.

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