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College Football Teams Use Girlfriends As Recruiting Tools

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

College football is a big-money sport. But the players are supposed to be amateurs. College football coaches are supposed to recruit championship teams with millions of dollars at stake. But because they are recruiting young people, they're not supposed to go too far. In doing all he could to recruit, a coach from the University of Michigan did not merely contact a player. The coach sent a hand-written appeal to the player's girlfriend. Inevitably, she posted the note on social media. Bloomberg View sports writer Kavitha Davidson calls this unprofessional, desperate and creepy. And she spoke with our colleague David Greene.

DAVID GREENE: Kavitha Davidson, thanks so much for coming back on the program. We appreciate it.

KAVITHA DAVIDSON: Absolutely. Thank you for having me.

GREENE: I could see a coach, you know, I don't know, going to friends or neighbors, parents, family members, you know, trying to do whatever to get a player to come to campus. But the fact that it's a girlfriend, the fact that this was a woman - say more about why it's inappropriate.

DAVIDSON: Well, you know, first of all, this has happened in the past. In 2008, Florida coach Urban Meyer convinced a junior college player to transfer to his school by basically calling his girlfriend incessantly and securing her a spot on the university's gymnastics team. Now that, you know, seemed to violate some NCAA provisions. But, you know, he didn't get into any trouble for that. In 2012, a similar incident happened in Alabama. And LSU fans who were angry that the prospect didn't sign with them started targeting the girlfriend on Twitter. These women are being used as tools. No consideration is given to the fact that they have their own college decisions to be made. They're just seen as a means to an end, essentially.

GREENE: But what about this letter that really bothered you - the letter to a girlfriend, you know, saying, hey, help me out in recruiting your boyfriend. Was that breaking a rule, or it just bothers you as inappropriate?

DAVIDSON: So it definitely bothers me as inappropriate. But what also bothers me that it's not breaking a rule. You know, if you look at the NCAA and its own priorities, the laundry list of things that you can't do in the recruiting process is endless. But apparently, you know, contacting this person with absolutely nothing to do with football or, you know, the potential university - that's totally within the rules. And I think that says a lot about where the NCAA's priorities are, essentially.

GREENE: Seems like you're suggesting there's a slippery slope here because you also pointed out another aspect of this that seems even more severe. It's not just about appealing to girlfriends, but it's trying to make sure that when recruits visit colleges, they can find female companionship when they're on campus.

DAVIDSON: Right. And I think that it's just part of this pattern that women are used as tools. Women are used as bargaining chips. There's this really big problem with what's called the hostess programs at various universities, where recruiters will enlist women on campus to serve as tour guides and what not. But very often, these women's duties go far beyond just, you know, answering questions about the dining halls or about what campus life is like. Very often, it's understood that they're to do whatever it takes, so to speak, to entice these players to come. And I think it really is a very slippery slope here.

GREENE: Does it make it any more legitimate in your mind if they're not targeting girlfriends specifically but literally targeting every single person in a player's life who they can possibly find in an effort to get this player to come play on their campus?

DAVIDSON: I mean, I think it makes a little bit more sense to contact parents than girlfriends. But even then, you know, it's a very blurred line in that case. But, you know, in the case of a girlfriend, you know, this isn't a wife. Your girlfriend can change. Your girlfriend can decide to break up with you or vice versa. It just seems like a very desperate reach, essentially. And, you know, I think it puts these women in very uncomfortable positions. I get comments from people who say, you know, they can just choose not to respond. Well, they shouldn't be put in that position in the first place, frankly.

GREENE: Kavitha Davidson is a sportswriter for Bloomberg View. Kavitha, thanks as always for coming on the program.

DAVIDSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.