ASHEVILLE - The flattering letters were nice, the "we need you" phone calls were even better, but they were not Chad Rice's favorite part of recruiting. Expense-paid, roll-out-the-red-carpet visits to Duke, North Carolina and
Wake Forest were. "It's probably what I would say is the most fun thing about the whole process, "said the Duke signee, who earned All-Western North Carolina football honors at linebacker for Reynolds this past season.
"When you go on (a recruiting visit), it makes you feel a part of the program before you even get there."
The same can't be said for all recruiting visits.
Last month, Brevard senior Manny Deshauteurs, the Associated Press State Football Player of the Year, was charged with four misdemeanors, including underage drinking in Asheville, during an official recruiting visit to Division II Mars Hill. Deshauteurs signed with Western Carolina less than a week later.
"I have taught him since he's been in elementary school," said Vernon Bryson, an assistant football coach at Brevard and Deshauteurs' wrestling coach. "He's going to say OK I did wrong and face up to it. He's a good kid, I believe."
A LOSING BATTLE
Cynics and realists alike might say it is a losing battle, but the NCAA's purpose is to try and keep college sports as clean as possible. It has rules for almost everything, including recruiting visits, but the NCAA does not provide a full script for what goes on with a typical 17 or 18-year-old high school senior during a visit.
When UNC Asheville assistant basketball coach Abby Conklin was a senior at Charlestown (Ind.) High School, she had the numbers both college basketball coaches and college deans coveted - a scoring average of 37 points a game and a grade-point average of 3.88.
Ultimately, Conklin, narrowed her choices to Tennessee, Purdue, Kentucky and Arizona. Most of the schools impressed her, but one, which she did not reveal, turned her off because of an incident that occurred on an official recruiting visit.
It involved alcohol - lots of it. "I wasn't a partier - I never drank," Conklin said. But an AAU teammate of hers did. When the two visited that school together, Conklin's friend ended one night in a drunken stupor.
"She was drunk, slobbering all over, in the back seat of the car," Conklin said.
"I hear about it all the time," Conklin said. "Friends have come home with hickies, not knowing where they got them."
NCAA INTERVENTION IMPOSSIBLE
"Certainly, it's not a matter of the NCAA as whole condoning things like that (underage drinking, etc)," said NCAA spokesperson Steve Mallonee. "In those situations you're probably dealing more with state laws and institutional policies."
"I think the NCAA rules are exactly where they need to be," said Fred Cantler, Western Carolina's senior associate athletic director, which includes duties as the school's NCAA compliance and eligibility officer.
"As a compliance officer, I'm not going to run around the bars at 12:30 in the morning and see who's there."
The NCAA seems to have its hands full with overzealous boosters and gambling.
"I don't see what the NCAA can do," said Conklin, a key member of Tennessee's 1996 and '97 national championship teams. "A lot of times you're in a college setting for the first time. Some kids just want to jump into it."
The most highly-publicized case this year of a recruiting trip gone awry occurred last month in Gainesville, Fla. The Gainesville Sun reported that during an official football visit to Florida, 18-year-old Jason Respert was arrested on charges of attempted sexual battery after drinking at a local bar with Gator player Alex Brown. Respert proclaimed his innocence, but if convicted, could face up to 30 years in prison.
ATHLETES ANTICIPATE TRIPS
The recruiting experience is not for everyone. The phone calls night after night can get annoying and the mailbox full of letters can get old. Promises are kept, but sometimes they are broken. For most, however, recruiting visits, which usually occur in December or January for football and in the fall or spring for basketball, are eagerly anticipated.
Listen to Roberson senior pitcher Chris Narveson, who made official visits to Wake Forest, UNC, N.C. State and Georgia Tech, before deciding on
"It seemed like everything they do is for the recruit," he said. "They don't think about themselves." Said Narveson's mother Sally: "It got me excited. I'd love to go back to school."
The NCAA allows five expense-paid - official - visits for a high school senior to Division I or II schools. Parents, whose trips are paid for, are encouraged to come.
Said Clemson football recruiting coordinator Rick Stockstill: "I think your success rate of getting a kid goes way up when a parent's there."
Recruits are also likely to stay out of trouble.
"It's pretty mandatory parents are here for us," UNCA women's basketball coach Kathleen Weber said. "Not only do they get to see the school and meet the staff, but it kind of keeps things a little more in line."
During an official recruiting trip, which may not exceed 48 hours, a recruit and his or her parent/parents may receive meals on or off campus, lodging on or off campus and complimentary admission to campus athletic events. In addition, recruiting hosts can be given $30 a day to cover entertainment costs, such as movies and concerts, for their recruit.
At most every campus, including UNCA, Western Carolina, Appalachian State and Mars Hill, official visits are structured and consist of meetings with coaches and professors, meals catered on campus or at off-campus restaurants and stays at reputable hotels or on-campus inns.
"I was impressed with all of them," said Glen Vinson Sr., who accompanied his son, former Asheville High All-Western North Carolina lineman Glen Vinson, last year on official visits to Howard, where he ended up, The Citadel, N.C. A&T and East Tennessee State.
"All the schools had some structure. They all had people talk to the kids. They showed them around campus and let the kids talk to different professors."
"The education was emphasized the most at all the schools I visited," said former Roberson basketball standout Shawn Alexander, who took trips to ASU, WCU and UNCA before picking ASU. "Basketball was emphasized next, then the social life."
"The main priority is academics," WCU football coach Bill Bleil said. "We don't want them to have any questions about their academics."
Most schools hold recruiting visits on a weekend; a typical visit begins late Friday afternoon and ends Sunday afternoon. The agenda for Saturday night usually includes a sporting event, typically basketball. When the game is over, the host usually shows the recruit a slice of campus life. At UNC or N.C. State, that might mean a walk down Franklin Street or Hillsborough Street. It could also mean a stop at a fraternity house or an off-campus party.
A MATTER OF TRUST
"I never had any apprehension about where he was going and what he was doing, "Sally Narveson said of her son. "Of course, we trust Chris."
Marion LeMay, whose son Jason, a former Owen All-WNC pick, started five games as a redshirt freshmen this past season at Clemson, placed her trust in the coaches and players at Clemson and South Carolina on Jason's official visits.
"I know there's been some incidents at a lot of your bigger schools," she said. "I'm not saying the boys don't go out and party. I'm not an ostrich with my head in the sand. A lot of these schools have been put on suspension before. I think they're careful."
Before a high school senior steps on a campus, most coaches will try and find out everything they can about that recruit's character.
"If they've always been in trouble in high school, chances are they'll always be in trouble in college," Stockstill said.
As important as anything is the host, who is usually hand-picked by the coach because of his or her personality, hometown proximity to the recruit's hometown, major or position.
"Most of our hosts are upperclassmen," said ASU football recruiting coordinator Travis Jones. "We ask them to use common sense. We trust them and feel like they use good judgment."
Said Stockstill: "The big thing is you don't leave (a recruit) anywhere. If he gets involved in something that's not right, get him out of there."
If a prospective student-athlete wants alcohol on a visit, chances are he or she won't have to look too hard. It is a well-reported fact that alcohol use on most college campuses is widespread. According to a Harvard University study in 1995, 84 percent of college students drink. A Harvard study in 1997 indicated that 43 percent of college students admitted to binge drinking (five or more drinks in a sitting for men, four for women) in the preceding two weeks.
To combat the temptation on a visit, some programs, such as UNCA's women's basketball team, make its hosts sign a form that prohibits alcohol use when with a recruit.
"If they break the contract and we find out about it, it puts their scholarship in jeopardy," said Weber, who rotates her hosts.
WCU and other schools make their hosts sign a form that says the entertainment money allowed by the NCAA can't be used to buy alcohol. Few, if any, recruiting hosts sign a form that says: Parties are forbidden. And at most campuses, there is always a party Saturday nights. If not on campus, then off.
"I don't want to say this, but everybody knows what college campuses are like on a weekend," Reynolds football coach Bobby Poss said.
"There's alcohol at all parties, whether you're in high school or college," Chris Narveson said.
Most recruits are sold on a school's athletic and/or academic program, but a good social scene is a priority to some.
"People I've gone on (recruiting) trips with have told me they didn't sign with a school because they didn't treat me that well or I didn't go to a big enough party," Narveson said.
What happens if a recruit drinks and gets in trouble while in the supervision of a host? Probably nothing, according to Rich Kucharski, WCU's legal counsel. "My initial reaction is the (recruit) is responsible," Kucharski said. "A school can argue that a (host) is not acting as an agent of the university."
In most cases, Poss believes recruits are responsible for their own actions.
"The more we can put on individual decision making, the better our society will be," Poss said.