Visitation rights

Publish date:

You also ruined the official visit for every star football recruit to follow.

Thanks partly to your mouth-watering recruiting diaries, published in The Miami Herald in January 2004 when you, a linebacker at Miami Carol City High and were the nation's most sought-after recruit, the NCAA cracked down on the rock-star treatment afforded most star football and men's basketball recruits. During your visit to Miami, you accompanied Hurricanes players to a club called B.E.D. Now, recruits visiting some schools must be in bed by 1 a.m.

To understand how the official visit -- the two-day, all-expenses-paid trip that allows prospective athletes to see what a school has to offer -- has changed since your tour, Willie, consider the wildest part of the biggest visit weekend at Georgia this recruiting season. On the night of Dec. 6, some of the nation's top players gathered at the home of Bulldogs coach Mark Richt and played ping-pong. That's right, ping-pong.

"[Richt] is pretty dominant. He didn't lose the entire night," said Bryce Ros, a Kennesaw, Ga., tight end who will officially sign next week to play for a coach who apparently is the best American table tennis player since Forrest Gump.

Let's not pile on Willie, who has enough problems after he was dismissed in September from Louisville following an arrest on a charge of marijuana possession. While Williams' decadent diaries raised eyebrows, it was reports a month later of the bacchanals at Colorado that rang alarm bells at NCAA headquarters. The president of a Denver company called Hardbodies Entertainment Inc. confirmed that Colorado players had hired strippers on multiple occasions to perform at parties attended by recruits. Later that year, an independent investigation conducted for the Colorado Board of Regents found "evidence demonstrating that sex, alcohol and drugs were used as football recruiting tools by some player-hosts and possibly a football recruiting assistant."

The NCAA acted quickly, forcing schools to formulate and submit written policies that would govern official visits. It outlawed recruiting hostess groups, instead forcing schools to use the tour guides available to any prospective student. Private planes were banned along with personalized jerseys, "gameday simulations," swanky hotel suites and anything but a "standard" meal.

So did the rules, first enforced during the 2005 recruiting season, change anything? Yes and no. All recruits now must fly coach, which can put them at the mercy of the airlines. Recruits still get a chance to sample the nightlife at most schools, but they'll probably spend as much time touring academic-support facilities as they will touring the bar and house-party circuit. And while they'll be well fed, recruits shouldn't expect unlimited surf-and-turf for every meal.

Zebrie Sanders, a Clayton, Ohio, offensive tackle who committed to Florida State earlier this month, said he ate at a few restaurants on earlier official visits to Florida, Georgia, Louisville and LSU. He didn't order lobster, though. "It had to be on the menu," Sanders said earlier this month. "If lobster had been on the menu, I might have ordered it. I've never had lobster before."

Meanwhile, athletic department officials are happy they no longer have to drain coffers trying to impress the latest future Heisman Trophy winner. Brian Battle, FSU's associate athletic director for compliance, said the guidelines leveled the playing field and ended a costly game of one-upsmanship.

"[The rules] standardized things. It did away with the excessive nature of things," Battle said. "Everybody was playing by the same rules."

FSU received a black eye in 2004 when Williams said the Seminoles flew him from Miami to Tallahassee on a private jet and that he put "four lobster tails, two steaks and shrimp scampi" on FSU's tab at a pricey Tallahassee restaurant. Battle said Williams did not fly on a private jet -- he was the lone passenger on a commercial flight -- and he said Williams exaggerated his gustatory prowess. Still, the rule changes allowed the Seminoles to develop a more uniform visit policy. While teams with a smaller squad size still take recruits to restaurants -- think Chili's instead of Ruth's Chris -- large groups of football recruits eat at FSU's campus dining facility. Battle said the recruits' dinner is a simulation of the meal Seminoles players eat the night before a home game. On one night of the visit, recruits eat dessert at coach Bobby Bowden's house.

Unlike the Pac-10, which limits schools to $60 a day to cover meals for a prospect, the ACC has no specific meal guideline. Battle said conference officials discussed a dollar limit, but they realized a reasonable price to cover a recruit at FSU or Virginia wouldn't provide much for a recruit visiting Boston College or Miami. At any rate, it's unlikely a recruit ever could recreate Williams' meal at The Rusty Pelican during his Miami visit. According to Williams' diary, he ate three lobster tails and two steaks. Using the restaurant's current menu prices and assuming Williams ordered the cheapest lobster tails and steaks, his meal would have cost $165.75 before tax and tip.

So what happens on an official visit now? Interviews with several of the top prospects from the class of 2008 have allowed to create a basic composite schedule. Some schools may alter the schedule, but the basic elements seemed consistent for BCS-conference schools.

Late morning/early afternoon: Fly in coach class to campus site. Typically, a coach or graduate assistant will pick up the recruit and his parents -- if they chose to pay their own way -- and drive to campus.

Late afternoon: Check into hotel (a standard room, with no hot tub or waterfall). Prepare for dinner.

Early evening: Dinner with recruiting host (current player), fellow recruits, their hosts and coaches. Dinner can be at a restaurant or at an on-campus site.

Late evening: The host player is responsible for entertaining the recruit. NCAA rules allow schools to give hosts $30 a day to cover their recruit's entertainment expenses. Nights typically begin at the dorm room or apartment of a player, usually playing video games. Hosts then typically show players the nightlife, either by taking them to a nightclub or to a house party.

Morning: After breakfast, recruits tour academic support facilities and meet academic advisors.

Afternoon: Recruits tour the athletic facilities (stadium, locker room, weight room) and meet with position coaches to talk football. Another academic presentation may follow.

Early evening: Before dinner, recruits get a chance to see stadium with lights turned on and JumboTron blazing. NCAA rules forbid personalized scoreboard presentations or pregrame introduction simulations.

Late evening: After dinner, which may have been at the head coach's home, recruits and hosts repeat Friday night.

Morning: Recruits meet again with position coach and sometimes meet one-on-one with head coach. At these meetings, scholarships often are offered and/or accepted.

Late morning: Depart. Recruit hopes he doesn't miss connecting flight.

The new rules haven't completely prevented misbehavior. Pete Swink, a "father figure" to Muskogee, Okla., receiver Jameel Owens since Owens was 9, said he received a phone call from Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer late at night on Jan. 11 informing him that Owens had been in the back seat of a car driven by Volunteers receiver Gerald Jones and that Jones and fellow receiver Ahmad Paige were cited by Knoxville, Tenn., police for marijuana possession. Knoxville police never accused Owens of any wrongdoing, but his name wound up in media reports about the incident.

Muskogee coach Matt Hennesy said Owens did not realize Jones and Page had joints in their possession when he got into the car. Fulmer did not suspend the players, but he did ban them from hosting recruits for a year and will force them to do community service and submit to more frequent drug tests. The following Monday, Vols assistant Steve Caldwell flew to Muskogee to assure Owens' family that Owens had done nothing wrong.

Swink and Hennesy said they don't blame Tennessee coaches, who they said can't be expected to babysit players 24 hours a day, but Swink did tell Owens that a U-Haul might be necessary if he signed with Tennessee. "If you go to Tennessee, I guess I'll be moving," Swink recalled telling Owens. A few days later, Owens committed to Oklahoma, which, Hennesy said, probably would have happened anyway.

Still, maybe the Vols would have had a better chance at landing Owens had the players just driven Owens to Fulmer's house for a rousing game of ping-pong.