Recruiting clubs face NCAA ban

The NCAA will finalize rules in August that could eliminate Gopher Gold and similar groups.

While Go-pher Gold members attended orientation Thursday afternoon, the NCAA Board of Directors met in Indianapolis to discuss the recruiting group’s fate.

Gopher Gold is a University volunteer organization that helps with football recruiting. Members lead campus tours during official visits and perform other tasks in the football office.

But in the wake of a recruiting scandal at the University of Colorado, Go-pher Gold and similar groups around the country are being scrutinized.

Allegations that alcohol and sex were used to entice recruits at Colorado led NCAA President Miles Brand to commission a task force to update recruiting policies.

Brand said the NCAA needs to address the “culture of entitlement” on college campuses. Athletes often feel entitled to special benefits, including sex, he said.

The task force has recommended several changes, including the elimination of special recruiting groups for athletics. The new rule would require hosts to be a member of the athletic team or be provided by the university’s office of admissions.

The NCAA Board of Directors will decide final recruiting rules changes – including the fate of special recruiting groups – at its August meeting.

Background

Recruiting groups started in the 1960s at the University of Alabama, where hall of fame football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant sent attractive female students to greet recruits, according to a Jan. 27, 2003, Sports Illustrated article.

Go-pher Gold began more than 10 years ago and has developed into a tradition at the University, Gophers football spokesman Shane Sandersfeld said. The group has an average membership of 35-45 students.

Prospective members fill out an application and interview for positions. Members receive perks such as warm-up suits and free admission to football games, but they are not paid.

During campus tours, Go-pher Gold members answer questions for recruits and their parents and ensure they stay on schedule for commitments.

Sex appeal

In recent years, the historically all-female recruiting groups have started including males. Go-pher Gold is comprised entirely of females, but males are allowed and have participated in the past, Sandersfeld said.

Despite being a mostly female group recruiting male athletes, Sandersfeld said the group does not use sex appeal to attract recruits.

“If you look at our program, that type of thing just isn’t tolerated,” he said. “They’re here to be an example for the University and that type of action would not be tolerated with Go-pher Gold.”

Athletics Director Joel Maturi said he has also heard criticism of the recruiting groups, but said sex appeal is not used at the University.

“I don’t think that’s our purpose,” Maturi said. “I know that impression exists, but we don’t do that. That’s not our intention.”

Some groups’ names add to the negative connotations. Mississippi State University has the “Bulldog Babes,” the University of Alabama has the “Bama Belles” and North Carolina State University has the “Stately Ladies.”

But some programs have changed their names. The University of Miami changed its moniker from the “Hurricane Honeys” to the “Cane Connection,” and the “Georgia Girls” are now the “Georgia Girls and Guys” at the University of Georgia.

Connie Connelly, who runs Georgia’s program, said the group expanded to include men last year and now five of its 90 members are male. The program does not use sex appeal in recruiting, she said.

“That’s not the case at all,” Connelly said. “As a woman, I like it because most girls cannot play the sport of football, but this is a way they can be involved in football.”

There is a risk that incidents could occur when women are involved in the recruiting process, Maturi said. But while some institutions, including Arizona State University, have ended their programs, Minnesota will not eliminate Go-pher Gold voluntarily, he said.

“There have been incidents of sexism and wrongdoing elsewhere, but I don’t want to make a knee-jerk reaction,” Maturi said. “I don’t think it’s right to take away good things because someone did something wrong somewhere else.”

The University conducted an internal investigation into its recruiting practices this year after reports that recruits were provided alcohol and taken to strip clubs.

As part of the investigation, University Compliance Director Frank Kara interviewed Go-pher Gold members. The investigation found no NCAA rule infractions and no signs of misconduct by Go-pher Gold members.

Proposed changes

The NCAA Division I Management Council unanimously passed the recruiting task force’s recommendation April 20. Its board of directors will finalize changes to recruiting rules in August.

Aspects of the recommendation could still be changed, task force chairman David Berst said.

Complaints from institutions or NCAA officials could influence a modification, he said.

But the proposed elimination of recruiting groups has received little opposition, Berst said.

“We, so far, have not heard many complaints related to it, and I don’t anticipate a change in heart in regards to that,” Berst said.

Maturi said he expects the recommendation to pass.

“My guess is (Go-pher Gold) will be eliminated,” he said.

If the NCAA approves the change, the athletics department would immediately terminate the program, Maturi said.

Many associated with the recruiting groups think the possible elimination goes too far.

Jennie Bailey, group coordinator for Texas Tech University’s “Raider Recruiters,” said the group has never had an incident of wrongdoing.

“I can tell you our girls are very upset that the organization might be taken away,” Bailey said. “They don’t feel like because of what happened at Colorado they should be punished.”

Connelly said it will be difficult for institutions to meet hosting needs for large events without the groups.

Georgia recently hosted 130 recruits and their guests at the annual spring football game – an event Connelly said could not have happened without the “Georgia Girls and Guys.”

“We’ll certainly abide by what they set forth,” she said, “but it’s going to make my job a whole lot harder, I can tell you that.”