Editorial: Coaches’ abuse of recruitment hurts players, NCAA programs

On March 21, Tennessee men’s basketball head coach Bruce Pearl watched his team fold in its first-round NCAA tournament game, losing 75-45 to Michigan. A day later, he was fired.

The decision to dismiss Pearl had nothing to do with the score; the Volunteers had actually won 145 games and lost just 61 during Pearl’s six-year tenure at the university.

Pearl’s Tennessee career instead ended because of poor decisions he made off the court that resulted in serious NCAA violations.

While everybody makes mistakes and nobody can pass judgment on Pearl, his actions reflect a problem with what seems to be acceptable as stakes rise in collegiate sports.

The NCAA charged Pearl with unethical conduct last September, to which he responded with a Sept. 10 news conference admitting he held a cookout at his home for high school juniors. Such contact with high schoolers is prohibited by the NCAA.

But four days later, Pearl spoke to a high school junior on a recruiting trip. By, not reporting this, Pearl committed another violation.

Although he said it was unintentional, it was still an infraction against the “bump rule,” which requires coaches to come forward immediately if they accidentally “bump into” high school recruits. Pearl did not report his actions, and the NCAA charged him in December for that contact with the high school athlete.

In February, University of Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun received a three-game suspension beginning on the first Huskies’ Big East game next season.

His citation said he failed “to create an atmosphere of compliance,” ESPN.com reported.

The NCAA alleged that members of the Connecticut staff had improperly contacted a recruit, making hundreds of phone calls and providing travel funds.

Last year, the University of Memphis was informed it had to vacate its 2007-08 season, in which it reached the Final Four, because of the knowledge it withheld from the NCAA.

Coach John Calipari’s program used a player who only became eligible after somebody else took his SAT test, an infraction Calipari did not report.

Finally, Baylor dealt with its own recruiting issue last summer with assistant coach Mark Morefield, who, according to FoxSports.com’s report in October, sent text messages to a Colombian recruit last summer.

Morefield had already been suspended from recruiting on the road in July because of other texting violations.

In all these cases, the wrong message has been sent to NCAA basketball programs.

With the millions of dollars available to schools that land the top recruits and hence earn top-paying television appearances, there is an obvious pressure to secure the best players.

Such a pursuit for success, however, cannot overrule common-sense principles.

High school athletes have enough to handle without being swayed by coaches contacting them excessively.

All of the men in these examples either have or probably will receive second chances. Despite their poor choices in the recruiting process, their coaching ability on the court remains of the highest caliber.

But the students they have illegally recruited don’t receive a second chance as easily.

Once a player enrolls at a school, he loses valuable time if he decides to transfer for whatever reason.

Coaches owe it to the players to abide by the rules and ensure an athlete’s decision is not altered by excessive contact or illegal benefits.