Big Cities Examine Big Sports College Recruiters' Pressure Tactics Are One Item on the Agenda of New National Council
Scott Pendleton, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
WHEN Deon Thomas elected to attend the University of Illinois, the school considered him the crown jewel of the 1989 basketball recruiting efforts.
Then the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) began to examine recruiting practices at the University. Now a sophomore, the six-foot-nine Chicago high school star has yet to play a game for Illinois, although he is expected to play this season. (Results of the NCAA investigation were due out this week.)
It is frustrating for big-city communities when promising athletes like Thomas are caught up in situations that put their futures at risk. That's because while only 2 percent of big-city athletes are of blue-chip caliber, more is at stake than their personal careers.
The college experience of those athletes affects the attitudes of high-school students behind them, says Larry Hawkins, president of the Institute for Athletics and Education (IAE) in Chicago.
Athletics can keep school interesting for students who might otherwise drop out, he says: A student in a large city who has participated in sports in grade school is two and a half times more likely to graduate from high school than one who didn't.
Last January, Hawkins brought together officials from 15 of the largest cities in the United States to form the National Urban Athletic Administrators Council (NUAAC). The council tackled sports issues unique to big cities, among them the question of fair treatment for blue-chip athletes.
But while considering ways to influence the NCAA, colleges, high school teachers and coaches, parents, and pre-college athletes themselves, NUAAC discovered it has a lot of ground to cover - and no road map.
For instance, the NCAA has mandated "dead periods" when recruiters are forbidden to contact athletes. Alumni boosters simply do it instead, says NUAAC member Roy Allen, director of health, physical education, and safety for the Detroit Public School System. `Hey...you're the greatest'
College recruiters begin to pressure promising athletes as early as their sophomore year of high school. The youths are "bombarded" with attention: They receive birthday cards from the recruiters; "the telephone rings day and night. There's no space for them to breathe," Mr. Allen says.
"A kid that comes out of a tough situation" can be susceptible to a recruiter's illegal inducements, Hawkins adds. "People start oiling him: `Hey, man, you're the greatest thing since bubble gum. …