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Perspective: by Jerry Pyle
It was a pretty good week for Cobber sports. Three women tracksters won All-American honors at the national meet in Maine. The weather started to warm as the baseball and softball teams made preparations for their spring season. And, for most of the sports on campus, indeed for the college itself, the recruiting season shifted into high gear.
And coaches faced recruiting's ethical perils.
When one hears of ethical perils in college athletics these days thoughts turn immediately to those classic recruiting dilemmas such as, "Do I mail the kid the cash or do I hand it to him when he visits the campus?" or "Is it unethical to offer a kid the same illegal inducement he got from another school or is it only unethical when I offer him more?" But at Concordia, and most other schools where scholarships are actually based on scholarship, recruiting perils take on a different form. The athletic medium of exchange at this level is not money but promises. And, in the absence of having money to offer, there is a temptation to be loose with the promises.
There are promises to be made about the quality of education and playing time and being with a winner and even stardom. Whether and how often and to whom to make these promises are the questions that try coaches' souls.
When there are athletic scholarships to offer a coach has a pretty good idea when recruiting is over. When the scholarships are all committed you're done. Sure, there are potential walk-ons to try to get. But there is no big mystery in the walk-on's mind about where he or she fits into the coach's plans.
But where there are no athletic scholarships there is no clear limit on the number of athletes a coach can recruit. The last recruit comes in on the same terms as the first. Financial aid is based on need and the same formula is applied to all.
You say you have three spots to fill on your basketball team? Why not bring in twenty so-so kids that Division II didn't want and maybe you'll find three late bloomers to fill your needs? For a lot of marginal athletes with lingering visions of a college athletic career a few flattering words from a college coach can be an enticing inducement to ante up the tuition and give it a shot.
Like most private colleges, Concordia goes after a student body composed of its vision of the best and the brightest. That vision includes a healthy number of the "well-rounded" type. This means recruiting outstanding musicians who can read books as well as music. And it also means recruiting a lot of scholars who also have some athletic skills.
If a coach, or anyone from the college, will suggest to these high school seniors the possibility of playing varsity sports it increases the chance of them signing up. The college gets a good "well-rounded" student and the coach gets a prospect.
But, absent a good deal of institutional and individual integrity on the part of the recruiters, it is a recipe for broken dreams and feelings of betrayal.
Most of the coaches have been around the block enough to know what you can honestly promise a particular athlete.
And when the marginal athlete asks a coach's opinion about the chances for playing-time the answer has to be an honest appraisal. That appraisal might be mistaken.
But it has to be made in good faith.
Telling wide-eyed high school seniors who have been small town heroes that they do not have college-level athletic talent is not a fun thing to do. But it is a lot easier than listening to those same athletes a year from now accuse you of having misled them about the chances of making it as a college athlete.
It is wise, though often difficult, to follow the simple and honorable recruiting advice of Lute Olson, the basketball coach at Arizona. "Don't recruit jerks and don't lie to recruits."
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