A recent headline proclaimed the past 12 months “The Worst Year Ever” in college sports — referring, of course, to the myriad scandals involving high profile figures like Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl, and Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel.
My first thought, when I saw that headline, was “Worst year ever? Really? It seemed about normal to me.” My second thought was, “Is anybody seriously surprised that a player’s family member had his hand out? That a couple of coaches lied about cheating?”
I know I wasn’t surprised. But then, I’ve been around college sports a long time. As I believe I’ve confessed in this space before, I was a junior college (or “JUCO”) basketball coach and athletic director for 13 years
As such, I was in a unique position: I had to recruit, but my players were also being recruited, many by high profile programs. You might be surprised at the things that went on in those recruiting battles. Then again, you might not.
There was the time one of my players, a JUCO All-American, returned from a visit to a Big 12 school sporting a pair of $500 alligator-skin cowboy books — and bragged that his fancy footwear was just the tip of the iceberg.
Another time, a famous SEC coach caught up with me at a summer all-star game to ask if one of my top players was going to make it, academically. I said I thought he would be OK. The great man put his arm around my shoulders and said, “Just get him close, Coach. We’ll take care of the rest.”
But my favorite story involves a player, back in the early ’90s, who was being heavily recruited. He ended up signing with a mid-major program instead of one of the powerhouses that had pursued him. I found that a bit curious and asked him why. Had that smaller school just done a bang-up job recruiting him?
“Naw, Coach,” he said. “I signed there because I wanted to be a star, not a role player. The school that did the best job recruiting me was. . .” and he named a major university in the Southeast.
“Really?” I said. “What did they do?”
“Well,” he told me, “first they flew me in on their private jet. Then they picked me up in a limo and took me to a nice hotel. They checked me in and told me to go upstairs and freshen up, and they’d be back to pick me up for dinner in an hour.
“So I go to my room, get undressed, and take a shower. When I come out and start putting my jeans back on, I hear this crinkling sound. I reach in my pockets and they’re all full of hundred-dollar bills.”
“Dang, man,” I said. “What did you do then?”
He said, “I took another shower.”
Rob Jenkins is a local writer and college professor. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.